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An Israeli Perspective: Israeli Memorial and Independence Day

Hanan Cidor / Israel / April 2010

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April 15, 2010


1 Iyar 5770


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This week's Resources:
- Israeli database of fallen soldiers
- Yizkor Sticker
- Israel Program Bank
- NFTY Holiday Page
- Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

An Israeli Perspective: Israeli Memorial and Independence Day
By Hanan Cidor

Being an Israeli, one of the hardest things to deal with, and as far as I know it is unique to Israel, is the seemingly unbelievable and immediate passage between sorrow and celebration, as portrayed in the pairing of Yom Hazikaron (Israel's Memorial Day) and Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Israel's Independence Day). The idea behind this is that the day before celebrating our independence, we are reminded of the price and sacrifice made by so many in order to keep us free.

If you've never been in Israel during those two days, nothing can possibly explain the experience and the kind of emotions that it evokes. After a full day of grief and remembrance, something that is very much relevant from a personal standpoint to literally every Israeli, we go rather abruptly to a truly joyous celebration of our freedom and achievements during Israel's Independence Day.

Those achievements are indeed very impressive. In just 62 years, Israel has managed to become a regional power, a modern, flourishing democracy in a region that has very little. In almost every possible measurement of world countries and societies, the Jewish state, especially when taking into consideration its small size, is at the top of the ladder alongside countries that have been around for centuries. When you think about the fact that all of this was done while facing constant security threats, some of them even starting literally from day one, the amazement and sense of awe is even greater.

But Israel's achievements are not and should not be measured only in comparison to how other states perform. After all, part of the whole idea behind the creation of the State of Israel is to see if Jews can, over 2,000 years after the last time we "took a crack at it,"  actually handle themselves independently, be masters of their own fate, and create a society based on a combination of human values and Jewish culture and heritage. When looking at Israel through this "Jewish" prism, the list of achievements is also quite impressive. As one example of having done something that was seemingly impossible, I point to the revival of Hebrew as our people's language. To think that millions of Jews are being raised today in Israel having not English, German, Russian, or Yiddish as their main tongue but Hebrew - a language previously restricted to scripture alone, is nothing short of amazing.

Nevertheless, sixty two years is also very young, especially to have suffered so much loss and dire threats. Of course, this sort of experience is not without consequences. No different than most other Israelis, I too have lost friends who died while serving their country in the Israeli army. Regardless of past and future achievements of the State of Israel, their lives are forever lost and those who knew and loved them are left with a hole that can never be filled. 

One of the "little traditions" we have in my family during Yom Hazikaron is to keep the TV on throughout the day on a special channel that for 24 hours shows nothing but the names of all of the soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks who have died since the day of Israel's birth. I know that many families in Israel do the same, and I think there's something very Jewish about that act. In a sense, it's our way of reminding ourselves that every person matters, that everyone had a name and an entire life to go with it - a whole universe that was lost in a tragic way.

So no, Israel is not perfect. In addition to the tremendous loss of human life, like every other Israeli, I can name off the top of my head a whole list of things that I don't like about my country. The thing is, none of these things will ever make me doubt my love and sense of pride for Israel, primarily because it belongs to me, and any other Jew who chooses to care or identify with it. Israel is our creation, the grand project of the Jewish people, and like every artist that has worked hard on a new creation, no one can be more critical than us towards what we have made; but at the same time no one can love the creation more than the artist who has put his heart and soul into his work.

Yom Ha'Atzmaut has always been my favorite holiday of the year. Not because I don't like any of the other holidays, but because in my view it is probably the only holiday where we celebrate a project that is still ongoing; where all of us can make a difference and shape the way this wonderful country, filled with our people, will look in the next year and the one after that. In my eyes, taking an active involvement in the shaping of our country and our people is the best way to commemorate the memory of those who have died defending it. Nothing is worth celebrating more than that.


  • How do most Israelis celebrate Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut?
    Yom Hazikaron is observed as a national day of public mourning with ceremonies in schools, offices and other public places. The military cemeteries are filled with family members and friends of fallen soldiers who come to mourn the loss of their loved ones, whether the death occurred decades or even a few days prior. Twice during the day the entire country literally comes into a stop as a siren is heard all throughout Israel and everyone stands at attention for two minutes.

On the eve of Yom Ha'Atzmaut people go out to the streets and celebrate together at outdoor concerts and parties all across the country. Fireworks are flown into the sky and barbecues can be seen (and smelled) wherever you go. The following day is celebrated as a national holiday where friends and families gather together, usually outside under the sun, to eat, laugh and enjoy each other's company. Nature reserves, museums and other attractions are open to the public - mostly for free. During the day, Israel holds the world Torah championship for teenagers and also gives out the prestigious "Israel prize" to individuals who excel in a variety of fields.

  • How can I celebrate Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut?
    For Yom Hazikaron, consider having a ceremony at your TYG or school commemorating the day, where you can read out names of fallen soldiers that can be found in the official Israeli database (you can ask a rabbi or a teacher to help with the translation). You can also wear the special "Yizkor" sticker worn by Israelis during the day. Another option is to stand at attention for two minutes along side Israelis at 8pm Israel time on Sunday, April 18th.

For Yom Ha'Atzmaut, consider having a party or a special meal to celebrate the occasion. You can run an Israel program at your TYG or school from NFTY's Israel program bank. Consider changing your Facebook profile picture to that of the Israeli flag for that day (April 20th) or wishing Israel a happy birthday on your status.



As a Jew residing in North America, do you feel like Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut are important to your Jewish identity? Why or why not?


Hanan Cidor is the Shaliach to NFTY. Hanan grew up in Noar Telem, the Reform youth movement in Israel, and at Kol Haneshama, a Reform congregation in Jerusalem. Hanan moved to New York City in September 2008 following 5 years of IDF service.

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