Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, began this evening at sundown with the sound of the siren, as Israelis commemorated their fallen.
Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism formally began at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday as sirens wailed throughout the country, signalling a solemn minute of silence at the start of an annual remembrance marked with candle lightnings, memorial services and melancholy songs.
This year’s memorials commemorate 23,447 men and women who have died in uniform or as victims of terror attacks. The past year saw 68 Israeli soldiers and police die in the line of duty, as well as 32 civilians killed in terror attacks.
Added to that dreadful number were a further 59 disabled soldiers who died of their wounds this year.
The siren was followed by a moving ceremony at the Kotel, where President Reuven Rivlin and Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkott addressed the audience of bereaved families:
President Reuven Rivlin opened the event.
“Last year, I stood here […] and for a moment, I wanted to dream,” Rivlin said. “I prayed that maybe one day, Memorial Day would be a day that fades into our memories: that there would not be another family suffering, their home destroyed. I prayed that maybe this year, we would stand here at last without new pain.”
“But this year, reality hit us,” he continued, perhaps referring to the current terror wave. “This year, again, I met talented boys and girls – kind, loving, and full of promise. Each and every one of them was a treasure of life.”
“But this year I got to know them too late: they were gone.”
“Today is a day of mourning – nationally and personally,” he continued. “Every one of us has loved ones who are not here with us. Today, the nation mourns together the great lack it feels.”
“Together, a great nation mourns its fallen; Ami, my neighborhood hero, who was only 16 year-old; Freddie, an ember plucked from the fire on Seder night 1947, he had survived the Holocaust, and yet was killed on the battlefield; Maoz and his son Nir, Eran and his father Dubi, boys who followed the fathers they barely got to know. Hussein Ali, a bride-groom who never made it to his wedding day. Hadar, guardian of the walls of Jerusalem, who died as she protected them, just this year. The list of our fallen goes on and on. None of them had planned for death. None of us bring children into the world with the thought that one day we will bury them in the soil and say the Mourner’s Prayer, standing over their open grave.”
“Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, grandparents, I stand in front of you and my heart is broken, my heart is torn. Your children, your loved ones, the fruit of your hopes, the subject of your adoration – there is no limit to the sorrow and suffering, there is no answer for the silent call – only the silence of death.”
Rivlin called for unity in the nation, and said that despite the fact that we are still fighting our War of Independence 68 years later, we are not “a nation of war”:
For over sixty-eight years we have been fighting the same war, the war for our independence; an ongoing campaign that changes its face and form. It is a painful battle that all the time adds fresh scars to the body and spirit of this ancient and robust people. Inherent in the stones behind me, the stones of the Western Wall, the ‘wall of tears and hope’, is testament that we are not men of war. We did not go into battle hungry for war, but with the desire for peace, with a lust for life, and a hated of death. But we realize the bitter and horrible truth – that there is a terrible price – which you have paid – to be a nation determined to protect its citizens and its independence. We will stand strong against anyone who dares to put our resolve to the test in any way.”
Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkott echoed the call for unity:
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkott then spoke, emphasizing the importance of unity on Memorial Day.
“Beyond the silence wrapping the State of Israel this evening, we discover again how much we are tied to one another, united by a common fate and purpose,” he began. “This unity is the basis for the Israel Defense Forces, and shapes its image as the people’s army, and the state military.”
“This is the unity that enables the whole nation to be behind us, which strengthens us, and gives our actions a tailwind,” he added.
Eizenkott also addressed the current terror wave, noting terror aims to “sow fear in the public’s heart,” and noting that Israel’s home front is as important as the front lines.
“On the eve of Independence Day, the IDF is a powerful and self-confident military,” he concluded. “If we support one another, there is no enemy that we cannot defeat.”
The ceremony concluded with the Kaddish prayer recited by the father of Hadar Cohen Hy’d, the Border Policewoman killed by terrorists at Shaar Shechem (Damascus Gate) in Jerusalem a few months ago. The Chief Chazan of the IDF then sang El Maleh Rachamim, the prayer recited at Yizkor memorial services, in memory of the fallen and murdered:
Following the ceremony, Israel’s TV channels all broadcast different assortments of video clips and interviews with families of victims of terror and IDF fallen soldiers. There were also events in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with stories and songs about the fallen and their families. In Jerusalem:
Part of the main event, hosted by journalist Hila Korach, will be held at Sultan’s Pool – in front of the Old City walls. It will bring to center stage the personal stories of families whose relatives were murdered in terror attacks over the past year – including the stories of Dafna Meir, the nurse killed in Othniel; Alon Bakal, who died in the Tel Aviv pub shooting; Hadar Cohen, who was killed two months after being drafted during at attack at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate; and Aharon Benita-Bennett, who was stabbed in Jerusalem’s Old City last October.
And in Tel Aviv:
Following the Western Wall ceremony, the “Singing in the Square” gathering began at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, where thousands turned out to sing traditional songs of commemoration for fallen soldiers, often punctuated by songs for peace and in memory of the square’s namesake, assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. there will be another siren, followed by memorial ceremonies at all the military cemeteries in the country. Every military grave has had an Israeli flag with a black Yizkor ribbon laid on it.
May this coming year see no more additions to the list of Israel’s fallen heroes.
May the memory of our fallen be for a blessing for all of Am Yisrael. Yehi zichram baruch.
יהי זכרם ברוך
To finish this sombre post on a somewhat better note, and to show that life indeed goes on, no matter how harsh the blows we must absorb, here are a couple of good-news items.
Firstly, the soldier who was so badly wounded in last week’s car-ramming terror attack near Dolev has woken up and is itching to get back to his unit:
Sergeant Matan Rodger was seriously injured during last week’s ramming attack near Dolev, just north of Jerusalem – but he wants to go back to duty right away.
“I’m dying to get back to my unit,” he quipped to Channel 2, just 24 hours after opening his eyes and regaining consciousness for the first time. Rodger is currently being treated at Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer.
Kol hakavod Sgt. Rodger, but please take it easy! We all wish you a continued refuah shlema.
But the most exciting tidings were the wonderful news that the parents of a soldier who fell in battle during Operation Protective Edge gave birth to a baby girl today. Here is a free translation from the Hebrew:
There was great excitement at the hospital on the eve of Memorial Day: Sarit Vaanunu, the mother of Golani soldier Ben Vaanunu, who fell in the Sejeyah APC disaster during Tzuk Eitan (Protective Edge) gave birth this morning at 7.30 to a baby girl weighting 2.73 kg, at Kaplan Hospital. Her daughter Ron, who is also a Golani soldier, and her husband Ilan, will participate in the Yom Hazikaron ceremony at the Knesset.
Sarit Vaanunu said “this is the most moving day for us, our family and our supportive friends, giving birth in the shadow of mourning for my son Ben, who fell in Tzuk Eitan. I want to thank all the staff of the hospital who received us and supported us so warmly. I gave birth here to my 4 children, and now I gave birth to my 5th.
Mazal tov to Family Vaanunu! What incredible timing as well as wonderful news. They really have fulfilled the traditional saying on Memorial Day: “In their death, they bequeathed us life”.