Moving to Israel meant making some serious changes in my life. Some of my favorite snacks are not available in Israel and Root Beer has yet to catch on. But perhaps the greatest change was being drafted into the IDF. As a thirty-year-old immigrant, the IDF only wanted four months of my life. I thought it would be like an extended summer camp with M16s. I was, of course, very wrong. In a much deeper way than I could have ever imagined, those four months, and the month of reserve duty I served annually for the next 15 years, changed me in a big way.
I remember that as I stood in full battle gear, ready to charge across a field with my gun blazing, I suffered a minor panic attack. My officer came to check my gear before the exercise and saw that I was in a difficult space. He asked me if there was a problem.
“I am having a bit of an existential crisis,” I said. “I am an old-school hippie. I should be dancing at a Grateful Dead concert, not standing here with a gun.”
“Do you want to skip it?” he asked, obviously concerned.
“Nah,” I answered. “It’ll work out after the first five bullets.”
Yes, putting on a military uniform and picking up a gun will change you. I have always loved Israel but now I can say with absolute certainty that I would die for Israel. I would die for my fellow Jews. I am one of the men who make “Never Again” a reality.
Unfortunately, too many beloved Israeli soldiers and citizens have died for Israel and for their fellow Jews.
Memorial Day in Israel, also known as Yom HaZikaron, is a day of remembrance for the soldiers who have fallen defending the country and the victims of terror attacks. It is a solemn and emotional day where the entire nation comes together to honor the sacrifice of those who have given their lives for the State of Israel.
Traditionally, Yizkor, the memorial prayer for a dead relative, is recited on the last day of a festival. This is done partly to ensure that the joy of celebrating these festivals is not diminished at the very beginning. In Israel, however, Yom HaZikaron is commemorated the day before Independence Day. This stark contrast between mourning and celebration serves as a powerful reminder of the sacrifices that have been made for Israel’s independence and continued existence. The State of Israel would not be able to celebrate its existence if not for those who gave their lives for it.
The idea of commemorating Memorial Day before Independence Day is rooted in the Bible. Psalms 126:5-6 reads:
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. Though he goes along weeping, carrying the seed-bag, he shall come back with songs of joy, carrying his sheaves.”
This passage emphasizes the notion that those who suffer and sacrifice will be rewarded in the end. The soldiers who have fallen defending Israel have made the ultimate sacrifice, and their dedication and bravery will never be forgotten. Every soldier that died protecting the State of Israel was a soldier in Joshua’s army, fulfilling the covenant. Every Jew that was murdered because they were a Jew living in Israel is on the level of Isaac, lying on the altar as a sacrifice to the Lord. But it is because of their sacrifice that we reap the joy of an independent Jewish state.
On Yom HaZikaron, sirens sound throughout the country and the entire nation comes to a standstill. People stop what they are doing, whether it’s driving, working, or even walking, and stand in silence for two minutes to honor the fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks. This is a powerful moment of unity, as everyone pauses to remember and pay their respects.
Throughout the day, ceremonies and events are held across the country to honor the fallen. Families visit cemeteries to place flowers on the graves of their loved ones and to pay their respects. The names of all those who have fallen are read aloud in a ceremony at the Western Wall, and a torch-lighting ceremony is held at Mount Herzl, the national cemetery of Israel.
Yom HaZikaron is a reminder of the high price that has been paid for Israel’s existence, and the importance of continuing to defend the country. It is a day of mourning, but it is also a day of gratitude for the sacrifices that have been made. Without the bravery and dedication of the fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks, Israel would not be the thriving and vibrant country it is today.
Israel’s memorial day is a deeply meaningful and important day. The idea of sowing with tears and reaping with joy is exemplified on this day, as we remember those who have fallen with sadness and grief, but also with the knowledge that their sacrifice has made our joy of living freely in Israel, and our celebration of Israel’s independence, possible.