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: 23,544 soldiers and 3,117 victims of terror.
Arutz Sheva published a very moving editorial (at the link above). Here is an excerpt:
Yom Hazikaron in Israel is a day of personal mourning, collective grief, and national catharsis. Our historic return to our homeland has demanded a steep toll of human heroism as we struggle to defend our people and stabilize our sovereignty. Jews are no strangers to historical challenge and the suffering it exacts. However Yom Hazkaron provides three very important changes in memorializing our matyrs.
Firstly we mourn as families and communities but for the first time in 2 millennia we mourn as a state. Despite our differences of ethnicity, religion, affluence and political ideology we cluster together and stand as one unified family – both in our collective sadness and in the warmth we try to extend to families who have paid this immense price for our return. Our mourning is collective and institutional rather than local and communal.
Secondly our mourning is both bitter and sweet; we feel clouds of sadness darkening our horizons but we sense an overpowering radiance illuminating the canvas upon which these clouds are sketched. Unlike past tragedies we sense imminent and palpable results and outcomes. We witness the modern miracle of the State of Israel as our beloved country advances in almost every sector and we assume our rightful position as a leader of nations We sense the Book of Tanach reopened as the passages of prophecy literally flutter off the page and into our reality. The ultimate price that so many have paid has yielded an opportunity to re-build our people in its ancestral land and its renewed history. As such the transition from this day to Yom Haatzmaut – which to many may seem foreign – is seamless and integrated.
Finally it is a day not only to remember the heroes who have given their lives for their history. It is also a day to celebrate all those who continue to risk life and limb on behalf of our nation, who bear uniforms with Jewish symbols and who remind us that we are now protected by our own.
We stand at silently at attention as names are recited in prayer for our heroes. We plead with the Almighty to accelerate the final steps of history and ease its passage. We huddle with families visiting the graves of their fallen soldiers and listen to their stories and join in their fervent psalms. Finally we punctuate our pride and pathos with a common anthem, Hatikvah, followed by the steadfast faith of Ani Ma’amin.
We are proud to offer this opportunity for our family across the world to join us in this great day of Jewish History
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed bereaved families at a ceremony in Jerusalem earlier in the day:
The siren marked the official start of the annual Memorial Day, although several events were held earlier Sunday.
Speaking earlier at a ceremony at the Yad Labanim site in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told bereaved families that the sacrifice of fallen Israeli servicemen and -women allowed the Jewish people to live freely in their own land.
“Ever since the dagger of bereavement was thrust into our hearts, our lives were changed forever,” he said.
“We note the mutual responsibility and destiny that binds all parts of the nation with the family of the bereaved. We are one people, and it is clear that if it weren’t for the sacrifices of our sons and daughters, we would not be a free people in our own land,” the prime minister said. “The State of Israel is a historic wonder.”
“We do not show weakness, we do not let the weapons fall from our hands, because we know that this is the only way to repel those evil people who refuse to accept our existence, and only then will we achieve peace with those who want peace.”
It is enormously saddening to consider the large number of Israel’s fallen, and these date back not just to 1948 but to previous centuries:
Since 1860, when the first Jewish neighborhood was established outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, 23,544 men and women have died while serving in the security services of Israel and the pre-state Jewish community, according to official figures.
In the past year, 97 additional Israelis were added to the list of the fallen, 37 of them disabled IDF veterans who succumbed to their injuries. The tally also includes soldiers who died in car accidents, and of suicide and other causes off the battlefield.
President Reuven Rivlin addressed bereaved families at the ceremony at the Kotel, saying that the price of our liberty is purchased in blood:
“By this wall of tears and of hopes, this evening, 50 years after the liberation of Jerusalem, we remember: our liberty is sacred, both sacred and hard,” the president says to an audience of IDF soldiers and families of the fallen. “We know that there is a price to be paid for our existence here, for our liberty. There is a price, and we, in awe and terror, are willing to pay that price.”
“Dear bereaved families, we are living that privilege. You paid the price. The price of our liberty purchased in blood,” Rivlin says.
The president also says efforts to return the bodies of IDF soldiers killed in operations outside of Israel must not be abandoned.
“The task of bringing home the missing and the fallen soldiers whose place of burial is unknown has not been completed,” he says. “Our commitment to those boys remains firm.”
This year a new Memorial Hall was inaugurated at Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery:
On Sunday a ceremony inaugurating the new “Heichal Hazikaron” (Hall of Remembrance) was held on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl.
The dedication comes just a few hours before Israel marks the Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism.
At the ceremony, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said “we remember who we are, and what the purpose of our actions is, no less than we remember those who have fallen.”
“Today we are inaugurating the Hall of Remembrance, which gives a memorial to our fallen soldiers,” Netanyahu said. “This is a significant event for all of us.”
“This year marks 50 years since the Six Day War. I know many parents of fallen soldiers are asking themselves, ‘Who will remember our son after we die?’ With this new hall, we promise that the memory of our fallen sons and daughters will remain etched in our nation’s heart for generations to come.
“This hall is not just a place to remember the past. In this hall, we promise to eternalize the past, but we also promise to continue to determinedly build the future.”
Netanyahu continued to speak, but was interrupted by Hadar Goldin‘s father, who said, “Even on this holy day, I do not forgive Leah Goldin’s tears. Her tears demand a response and an immediate apology.”
Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul are two IDF soldiers who killed in action during Operation Protective Edge (Tzuk Etan) and whose bodies were kidnapped by Hamas. They have not been returned to the present date.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) said, “Israel does not receive international backing in its moments of truth. The world must halt hypocritical and anti-Israel diplomatic initiatives, some of which are anti-Semitic as well.”
“As we speak, like during every other hour of every other day, IDF soldiers and other security forces are working in the air, on the ground, and in the sea, to ensure the safety of Israel’s citizens.
“They do this with courage and determination, along all our borders and sometimes far from our borders. They work to thwart every threat, and to capture everyone who wishes us harm.
The new hall is 18 meters high, and contains over 23,000 bricks – each with the name of a fallen IDF soldier and the date he or she fell. Next to each name is a memorial candle which will be lit on the anniversary of their passing.
The new hall memorializes every fallen soldier, from the earliest Zionists who were killed, to the most recent victim of Israel’s war on terror.
All of the lights will be light on Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism.
The mezuzah which Israeli President Reuven Rivlin affixed to the hall’s doorway saw Jerusalem’s unification and the IDF forces tearful entry to the city.
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 more upbeat note, here is the post by the wonderful Sivan Rahav Meir, a news broadcaster who has turned into an inspirational commentator on Jewish subjects, almost a female Rabbi. Her Facebook posts are always education and inspiring. Here she writes about Yom Hazikaron – how do we go on from the mourning?
And now again – “Aharei Mot Kedoshim” (literally: After the death of the holy ones) are the Weekly Portions that are going to accompany the Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism. How do we behave after the death of the holy ones? Two years ago I heard Rebbetzin Yemima Mizrachi speaking on the evening of the Memorial Day in Tel Aviv. The hall was packed to capacity, and therefore another room was opened with a live video broadcast of her speech. And this is what she said:
“It is not a coincidence that these special days, Memorial Day and Independence Day, take place during the double portions of Aharei Mot – Kedoshim. What does Aharei Mot mean? What does the Torah tell us to do after someone’s death? To LIVE! To empower the living. And how do we do this?
“It is no coincidence that it is in this Portion of all portions and in this week of all weeks that we read: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. These holy souls look at us from above and ask: ‘What were we sacrificed for, if down there they are still fighting over trivial things and hate each other? How come they do not respect one another? How come they do not respect their wives, children, elderly, teachers, combat soldiers, Torah scholars? RESEPCT!'”
And then she asked us to do something: “Let each woman here put her hand on the shoulder of the woman sitting next to her. Come on, don’t be shy, don’t feel embarrassed. Put a hand on another person and say with me: ‘I am hereby prepared to accept upon myself the positive commandment of And You Shall Love Your Neighbor as Yorself. Come on!”. And then 250 women, old and young, secular and religious, those who are in the process of coming closer to Judaism and those who are in the opposite process, those who wear head scarfs and those who do not, those who wear skirts and those who wear jeans – all of them, in the middle of Tel Aviv, on the evening of the Memorial Day, put a hand on the shoulder of someone that they did not know, repeated her words, word for word, and accepted upon themselves to try to love more.
These are stirring words for all of us to live by always, not just on Yom Hazikaron, in order to honour the dead and respect the living, so that we can fulfill the words:
“In their death, they bequeathed us life”.