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Yom HaZikaron

Roey Shiff, Shaliach to NFTY / Israel / May 2011

May 2011


Iyyar 5771



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Yom HaZikaron: An Israeli Perspective
by Roey Shiff, Shaliach to NFTY

This piece has been adapted from Roey's bi-monthly column, "It's an Israel Thing" and was previously featured in the URJ's Ten Minutes of Torah .

As the NFTY Shaliach I have the pleasure of traveling to different NFTY regions and seeing many airports in the United States. Once during my travels, a gathering around one of the gates in the airport drew my attention. I joined it, and witnessed a really emotional scene: soldiers in uniforms emerged from the jet bridge connecting the airplane to the gate. Every soldier who entered won warm applause from the gathered passersby. And of course, each one received big hugs and kisses from loved ones who were waiting with signs bearing messages such as: "Welcome Home Daddy." Though I don't know where those soldiers came from and how long their relatives were waiting for their return, I must say I was touched. The only thing missing was background music (the kind you hear at Hollywood movies when the scene turns dramatic), for me to shed a tear as well.

While it's rather obvious to me that every country cherishes its own servicemen and women, I feel that in Israel this appreciation has a different meaning. Maybe it's because of Israel's historic struggle for its establishment and survival surrounded by hostile neighbors. Maybe it's because Israel's security forces don't have to cross half the globe as part of their role, but instead serve a few hours or a minutes away from their homes, sometimes literally defending their own backyards. Maybe it's because most Israelis have served themselves at some time in their lives in the security forces, and are connected with people who were killed or injured as a result of military service or terrorist attacks. And maybe it's a combination of all of these reasons.

This feeling I'm talking about is best demonstrated on Yom HaZikaron, Israel's official Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, which will be held this coming Monday (May 9, 2011; 5 Iyar 5771). In accordance with the Hebrew calendar, the day actually begins on the preceding evening at 8:00 p.m. with the blast of an air raid siren . (The second blast is heard the following morning at 11:00 a.m.). The wailing of sirens brings everyone to a halt, including cars on the road, so Israelis can stand in silence, remembering their debt to the fallen.

In my mind, this honorable custom of commemorating and expressing eternal gratitude is also an amazing gesture of solidarity, because it signifies not just a dead person's life with its endless future potential that is forever lost, but also the lives of those who knew and loved him that will never be the same again. It's almost impossible to truly understand the grief of the families and friends who have lost their loved ones. However, on this day, and especially in those moments when the whole country stands still, we most sympathize with the bereaved families. In those moments we're all one big family, united in our loss.

In a strange twist or irony, with the closing of this sad day comes the happiest day. Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, opens when the country celebrates its sovereignty and its various national achievements. It's an emotionally difficult transition, but it helps emphasize the lasting tie between the sacrifice of the fallen, and the continued existence of a vibrant and dynamic state of Israel. By remembering the tremendous price so many have paid to this place, we Israelis and those who passionately care about Israel, are required to make it a meaningful celebration - not as a place worth dying for, rather as a place worth living in!

Roey Shiff, the Shaliach to NFTY, grew up in Ein Vered, Israel and has experience working with teens and leadership development. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Business Management from Ben Gurion University. Roey currently lives in New York and writes the bi-monthly column "It's an Israel Thing."

Subscribe to "It's an Israel Thing" on the NFTY website at


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Copyright 2011   Union for Reform Judaism
Produced by the URJ Department of Lifelong Jewish Learning and Youth Division.

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