Showing posts with label Israel Independence Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Israel Independence Day. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Yom Hazikaron 2023

One  week  after Yom HaShoah v'Hagvurah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is  commemorated, Israel marks Yom Hazikaron - national remembrance day for soldiers, victims of terrorism and other state service people.

Yom Hazikaron is commonly referred to by many people - as "K'dosh Kdoshim" - the  holiest of the holies.  For some Israelis, it is more meaningful then Yom Kippur.  It is a day marked or observed by Israelis across the political spectrum, religious and non-religious, of different ethnicities, and all different ages.

According to official Israeli sites, 24,068 soldiers  and security  personnel have died since Jews first began modern efforts to rebuild Israel in 1860.  In addition, approximately 4,216 Israelis have  been  killed  in terrorist attacks.   Following the founding  of the State of  Israel in 1948, Yom Hazikaron was established as a day to remember fallen soldiers, which would take place every year the day before Israel's national Independence Day.  Over the years, Yom Hazikaron was expanded to include those who were killed prior to the  establishment of the State and in 1997, the Knesset enacted a law to include remembrance of victims of terrorism on Yom Hazikaron.

Like with Yom Hashoah, which we observed last week,  we walked over to the Ra'anana ceremony last night at 8 p.m. All of Ra'anana's stores and restaurants closed early (around 6 p.m.) last night, as they did across the country.  We went early to be able to find seats.  There were thousands and thousands of people.  Large sections of seating were reserved for families of fallen soldiers.  

The ceremony started with a two minute long piercing siren.  Thousands stood silently thinking  about those who had died and. bracing themselves for a difficult ceremony.

The commemoration itself was about 1 hour and 20 minutes.  It included speeches from the  Mayor of Ra'anana, a representative of the bereaved families, the city Rabbi, and others.  There was a special emphasis  on the Yom Kippur War, which took place fifty years ago, in 1973.  Images flashed across screens of worshippers in synagogue the day the  war broke out - suddenly hearing  sirens and  alarms across the country as Israel was  attacked by Egypt and Syria on Yom Kippur.   There were several stories about the lives of different soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the  country and the names of every soldier,  originally from  Ra'anana, who had been killed, were read out.  There were also several musical performances which were emotional, moving and exceptionally well  presented.

We went back  home and watched the tail end of the national Israeli ceremony.  After that, TV stations broadcast musical performances for several hours by Israeli artists singing mournful loss-themed  songs, much of this from a live performance in Tel-Aviv.  This was all interspersed with interviews and  stories about fallen soldiers, their families and their fellow soldiers who  served with them.

Over the course of the day, Israeli TV programming is  non-stop Yom Hazikaron programming.  There was a second nationwide two minute siren at 11 a.m.  There was a national ceremony at Mount Herzl and there are stories throughout the day of fallen soldiers and their families.

Yom Hazikaron is such a powerful day in Israel because of the nature of Israel's army and the role it plays in society.  Since everyone is or can be  drafted in Israel, the army is still very much a  citizen's army.  Israelis, young men and women, from all  walks of  life serve and units can be made up of people from different places, different backgrounds,  different ethnic origins, economic circumstances and political views.  They come together in the belief that it is necessary to defend the  country. (I am not pretending there are no political issues here - including issues relating to who is required to serve - but I am deliberately avoiding those issues for now - that is for another post).

Israelis recognize  that the army is there to protect Israel against very real existential threats.  Two of Israel's wars, the 1948 War of  Independence and the 1973 Yom Kippur War were very much existential wars in the truest sense of the word.  In 1948, Israel was heavily outnumbered and had vastly inferior equipment to that of the array of surrounding countries that invaded, right after Israel declared its independence.  In 1973, Israel suffered crushing losses during the first few days of the war, with Syria threatening to march towards Tel Aviv and Egypt threatening to march northwards.   In both cases, heroic efforts by Israeli military forces led to eventual victory, at a heavy, heavy price.

In 1982, when Israel became involved in the first Lebanon War, Israel's north was under incessant attack from rocket fire from Lebanon.  In 1996, during the Second  Lebanon War, rockets from Lebanon hit Israeli targets (mostly civilian) across the country.  More recently, Israel has faced barrages of rocket fire, targeting civilian areas, from Gaza and has had to defend the country.

And today, although  things can seem relatively peaceful at times, there are serious threats to Israel from Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Hamas and Palestinians.  The army  must maintain a constant state of readiness, relying heavily on a wide range of intelligence operations, as well as the readiness of its well trained forces, in preparation for any possible outbreak of hostilities.

A common  theme at Yom Hazikaron  is the gratitude that we owe these fallen soldiers.  It is because of them, their colleagues, their efforts and  their sacrifices, that Israel was established and has been able to make it to his year's 75th anniversary.

The founders of Israel recognized that Israel's establishment and independence came at a great price.  They determined that the  only logical day on the  calendar to mark Yom Hazikaron would have to be the day before Yom Haatzmaut - Israel's Independence Day.

They  understood that Israel's greatest day of celebration, which is marked by fireworks, street partying,  festivities  across the country - could only be celebrated properly if it was preceded by a day  honouring, thanking and commemorating those who made it all possible.

Yom Hazikaron will end tonight at sundown and Israel's 75th Independence Day - Yom Haatzmaut - will begin immediately after sundown.  The country will demonstrate its resilience by moving seamlessly from grief to joy, from remembrance to celebration and from the country's cemeteries to national parks, musical stages, outdoor festivals and fireworks.  It is a difficult transition.  The message is that Israelis have no choice but to remember and thank those who were lost - while at the same time doing everything possible to get the  most out of life and celebrate what we have.

To all those who we  remember on Yom Hazikaron - Y'hi Zichram Baruch - may their memories be  blessed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Yom Haatzmaut 2013 - Chag Sameach

I was fortunate to be able to get back to Israel for Yom Haatzmaut - Israel Independence Day - in time to celebrate Israel's 65th anniversary.  I was away for an extended period to have the chance to celebrate Pesach in Toronto - so it is nice to be back for such a great occasion.

Yom Haatzmaut, of course, is always the day after Yom Hazikaron - Israeli Rememberance Day.  For Israelis, the cost of building and maintaining a state has been tremendous.  More than 22,000 solidiers have been killed in defending the State and some 4,000 civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks.  Of course, the line between soldier and civilian in Israel is very much blurred since most Israelis are conscripted to serve in the army for some period of time and then become available as reserves for years afterwards.  It is fitting that Israel remembers its fallen so poignantly the day before celebrating Independence Day.  It is reminder of the bittersweet essence of life.  It also undescores the level of honour, respect and dignity shown to those who have lost their lives or been injured fighting for the freedom of rest of us.  In Israel, on Yom Hazikaron, a siren sounds at 11 a.m. and everyone stops for a moment of silence.  Cars pull over on the highway and drivers get out of their cars.  Buses pull over and all of the passengers get out of the bus and stand for a moment of silence.  Everything comes to a complete halt.  Radio stations play sombre music all day.
As the sun sets, Yom Haatzmaut begins and the country shifts from commemoration to celebration.

In the evening, Erev Yom Haatzmaut, (the holiday begins the night before as with every other Jewish holiday), there are concerts and events across the country.   We attended the Ra'anana celebrations, which this year featured Rami Kleinstein and Harel Skat. 

Ra'anana has close to 80,000 residents.  I wouldn't want to try to guess how many were in the park but it was quite a signficant number.  There were food vendors selling everything from pizza to hamburgers, bourekas to ice cream - and other vendors selling all kinds of must have items for kids ranging from glow in the dark watches and blow-up hammers to helium balloons and all kinds of crazy hats and headgear.

At one end of the park was the main stage.  It featured various kids' dance troupes for the first couple of hours, accompanied by recorded music.  Some of the dance groups were elementary school students and others were semi-professional dancers from some of the city's sophisticated high school dance programs.  Of course, this was hardly religious or even Israeli music.  Most of the dancing was accompanied by current pop, rap, hip-hop or other North American and British influenced music.  All of the groups were well rehearsed and some were quite entertaining.

At about 10 p.m., the City ran a 10-15 minute fireworks display.  After that, Israeli singer Harel Skat performed on the main stage.  He is quite young, having been a runner-up in the Israeli version of American Idol.  He was quite entertaining and the audience enjoyed his music.  His set was only about a half hour long but it was really good.  Most well known Israeli performers go from city to city playing at a number of venues on Yom Haatzmaut - and earning huge fees.  I don't know what Skat's schedule was like - but the Israeli papers reported that singer Eyal Golan was performing at five venues and earning about 120,000 shequels per performance (each of which were probably about a half hour long).

After Skat's peformance ended, the next performer due up was Rami Kleinstein.  He was nowhere to be found at 10:30 p.m. - probably at some other performance - so the crowd was subjected to a tortorous DJ using a stage name of "Brian's Freak Show."  He hurled obscenities at the crowd and played atrociously vulgar music, mostly uncensored rap and house music.  It is little wonder that Ra'anana's religious community runs a second stage at the other end of the park, which features, primarily, religious music.  At the main stage, which included many young children, this DJ's performance was simply obscene.  (And of course, many of you know that MY threshold is reasonably high...).  I actually found it shocking that the city of Ra'anana would celebrate its Independence Day with such a vulguar performance.  I think many agreed with me.  Even those who were waiting to see Rami Kleinstein began to lose patience as this assault continued for about 1 1/2 hours.  The audience thinned noticeably though that was also due to the fact that it was getting quite late.  Even the intended target audience did not seem totally thrilled with this filler D.J. 

So by the time Rami Kleinstein showed up, and Brian's "freak show" mercifully ended, many of the people who would have enjoyed Kleinstein had left.  He performed for about a half hour and it was a great show - but it was not his ideal crowd.  Where in his live peformances, people all sing along and dance to his music, the reception here was much more subdued.

We left the park around midnight, even though the party was continuing on until 4 or 5 a.m.  My son tells me that there was a DJ called "Eazy" playing predominantly "dub step" starting at about 12:30 a.m.  It Sounds like it was even worse than "Brian's Freak Show."  I suppose each generation complains about the musical tastes of the younger generation.  But there is lots of great new music out there today, much of it popular with young crowds. So it is puzzling to me why the biggest public celebrations would feature the trashiest type of entertainment.

On Yom Haatzmaut itself, we slept in and missed morning tefilloth.  Many observant Israelis include a special Hallel prayer on Yom Haatzmaut, a prayer that is reservered for the most important holy days on the Jewish calendar.  But when we finally woke up, we performed the Israeli duty of having a barbecue on Independence Day...which was followed by a really nice, festive Birkat Hamazon to make up for the service that we had missed in the morning.

Israelis also celebrate by Independence Day by holding an International Bible Contest in Jerusalem (the finals of an event that takes place all over the world).  As well, Israeli President Shimon Peres hosted a musical event at the President's residence.

Overall, there are many opportunities to enjoy wonderful music, to celebrate with people everywhere and to contemplate Israel's future and past accomplishments.  Maybe next year, we will find a different venue for the evening event with more tasteful entertainment (not that I'm complaining about either Rami Kleinstein or Harel Skat, both of whom were great). 

Chag Sameach from Israel!