Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut Wednesday, April 25 • Thursday, April 27

by | Apr 23, 2012 | Uncategorized

Memorial Day for most people in Tidewater, or throughout America, for that matter, generally signals the opening of neighborhood pools, a three-day weekend, and maybe a day to remember and honor those who have fought to defend America’s freedom.
In Israel, it means only a day to remember and honor those who have fought to defend freedom and nothing else. Unlike a traditional Memorial Day in America, there are no BBQs, no fireworks, or sandcastle competitions. Israelis throughout the country pay somber tribute to those who have offered the greatest sacrifice. Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, is observed this year on Wednesday, April 25.
Like most Jewish holidays, Yom Hazikaron begins at sunset and ends the next day at sunset. All public entertainment is closed. Just after sunset, at 8 pm, an air raid siren is sounded throughout the streets of Israel. This siren plays for one minute during which all activity ceases. People in the streets come to a complete stop. Transactions come to a halt. Cars stop. Everyone stands in silence, honoring and remembering the price of freedom.
Another siren at 11 am the following morning is met with the same behavior and official ceremonies begin. During the day, students walk to school wearing outfits of white shirts and blue pants. Israelis attend ceremonies all over the country—in schools, public buildings, and cemeteries—to honor those soldiers who perished during the fight for Israel’s independence and those who have perished defending it ever since. Regular television and radio programming is replaced with remembrance-themed shows, songs, and tributes to those who have fallen.
A national ceremony is held at Mt. Herzl (Har Hazikaron or Mount of Remembrance), where Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, is buried. Prayers and readings are recited both aloud and with silent reflection during these ceremonies. The Mourners Kaddish and a special Yizkor prayer are read.
During the 1950s–60s, a poem written by Natan Alterman was a popular read. The poem, The Silver Platter, is a vivid metaphor meant to represent those who died in their efforts to bring freedom to Israel. This is a tragic representation of the result of battle, and who ultimately pays the price.
Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day for Israel, is celebrated the following day. Yom Ha’atzmaut is a joyous festival full of celebration. Just after sundown, as ceremonies for Yom Hazikaron come to a close, the President delivers another speech on Mt. Herzl acknowledging and commending the Israeli military for their past and future successes. The Israeli flag is raised to the top of the pole and the mood throughout Israel switches to pure elation. Twelve torches are lit to represent the 12 tribes of Israel as Israelis pour onto the streets to begin their celebrations. Singing and fireworks continue into the night along with parades and traditional folk dancing.
The next day, this year, Thursday April 26, holds even more celebration. Families spend time with Israel—hiking, going on picnics, or visiting the Army camps for tours. This is an opportunity for the IDF to show civilians some of their new technology and achievements. The International Bible Contest is held on this day not only in Jerusalem, but also throughout the Diaspora. The winner is awarded a four-year college scholarship to Bar Ilan University. The first runner-up and the winner of the Diaspora contest each win a scholarship to Mechon Lev.
Yom Ha’atzmaut ends with the presentation of the Israel Prize. This prize is noted as the top award handed out by the state. Winners include individuals or organizations, and are chosen on an array of standards, including involvement in humanities and Jewish studies, all areas of science, arts and sports, and lifetime achievements or exceptional contributions to the nation.
Yom Ha’atzmaut is a popular holiday among Jewish communities in America. Many host large scale festivals to celebrate Israel independence. During these festivities, it is customary to have a short ceremony for Yom Hazikaron and to honor those Israelis who bravely fought and lost their lives.

by Rebecca Bickford