This evening marked the start of Yom Hazikaron in Israel – Remembrance and Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror.
Across Israel, everything is closed for the evening. In cities across the country, major streets are closed – as tens of thousands of people attended ceremonies to remember cousins, friends, neighbours and family members who have fallen in Israel’s wars, in the course of national service and in terror attacks.
Yom Hazikaron is linked to Israel Independence Day – which follows one day later. The very intentional linkage reminds Israelis of the importance of the sacrifices made by so many to enable the creation and continued existence of the Jewish State.
In Ra’anana, thousands attended a very moving and extremely well planned memorial ceremony. Ra’anana’s Mayor, Nahum Hofri, a former Army commander himself, spoke about the loss of his brother in battle– and so many others. Ra'anana’s Chief Rabbi spoke along with a number of family members of fallen soldiers. The memorial evening included a number of well-known Israeli ballads sung hauntingly by individual singers as well as an adult and a children’s choir.
Residents of Ra’anana walked quietly to the centre of the city – Yad LaBanim – from many different areas - to pay silent homage over the course of the 90 minute commemoration.
These losses are so close to home to so many Israelis who have faced a very real existential struggle over the course of 63 years of statehood – which has included 6 major wars – and many terrorist attacks along with numerous other military operations and battles. Ceremonies are also held across the country – at schools, military ceremonies and other locations, marked by silence at 11 a.m. during the day of Yom Hazikaron itself.
Despite this history of tremendous loss, the ceremonies included an optimistic note. The nationally broadcast ceremony from Rabin Square in Tel Aviv – closed with “Lu Yehi” – If Only It Could Be – a prayer-like song yearning for peace. And Mayor Hofri – closed his speech in Ra’anana – quoting the prophet Isaiah:
“they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more…”
Despite the many challenges Israel faces – the recent uprisings and governmental changes in neighbouring countries, the threats from Iran, Syria, Gaza, Lebanon and other enemies – and the misguided or simply anti-Semitic ostracization of Israel by so many of the world’s countries – the hope and belief that peace is possible continues to resonate with Israelis even as they remember those whose lives have been lost through so many years of struggle.