This week, (on the 27th of Nissan), The State of Israel commemorated Yom Hashoah Ugevurah (“Holocaust and Heroes Memorial Day”). This marked the first of four special commemoration/celebration days in the Zionist calendar. Less than a week later Israel marks Yom Hazikaron (whose full name is “Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism”) and then celebrates Yom Haazmaut (“Independence Day”), followed by Yom Yerushalayim (“Jerusalem Day”). These days are highly instructive regarding the culture of memory in Israel, specifically the similar, yet different, memorial days.
Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron are inescapable events in Israel. Being here one is both surrounded and enveloped by these two memorial days.
- The radio plays poignant slow beautiful songs of love, loss and yearning. These songs are known as “Memorial Day Songs.”
- The newspapers are full of emotional stories and articles that are related to the days.
- The TV runs sensitive programming the entire day related to witness accounts and stories of those who fell. Even Israeli MTV has special Memorial Day programing. Movie channels are closed in honour of the fallen.
- All places of public entertainment are closed.
- Sirens wail through the land leading the entire country to pause and reflect.
On Yom Hashoah six million live Jews stand in silence here in Israel as the sirens soul-piercing wail is heard across the land and honour and remember those who were murdered simply because they were Jews, and there was no Jewish State to protect them, or for them to freely go to.
Below is the quote from the IAF pilots who flew over Auschwitz on the 60th anniversary of its liberation. Unfortunately, they were 60 years too late to stop the mass murder. However, the highly symbolic mission carried a powerful message about the times we now live in.
We, the pilots of the IAF, flying in the skies above this camp of horrors, arose from the ashes of the millions of victims, and shoulder their muted cries, salute their courage and promise to be the shield of the Jewish people and its land – Israel.”
Both sirens are about the way honour of the dead is commemorated in the culture of memory in Israel. The culture of honour is both ritualised and contextualised through behavior. The sirens are moments of reflection on both enormity of what was lost simply because there was no Jewish State, and the price we pay to keep the Jewish dream alive and to make sure that, “never again” means, “never again!”
Rabbi Stuart Weiss, who lost a son, Ari, fighting in Jenin during his IDF service, wrote a moving piece about the different types of death commemorated by these two memorial days. In an article about a young soldier, Baruch Shapiro, killed in the War of Independence defending the road to Jerusalem, he wrote how the aging father mourned at the funeral on Mt Herzl of the last remaining family member, who had survived the Holocaust and come to Israel to build a new life, by dancing next to his son’s fresh grave. When the shocked onlookers tried to comprehend the old mans behavior he responded:
Baruch gave his life for all the people of Israel, so they could be free, and safe, and independent. This is not the waste of life. It is the celebration of a life!”
We should honour both the dead of the Shoah and those who died defending our homeland by living ethical and moral lives and making the most of our lives. We should be grateful every day for the times we live in where we Jews are in charge of our own destiny in our own land, and be aware of the price paid for this privilege. We indeed live in a time of wonders and miracles.
Israeli Flags for Independence Day in Modiin (Photo: (c) T. Book, 2014)
Memorial Day is a stark reminder that we did not receive our State on a silver platter and how grateful we are for those young boys and girls who give the best years of their lives, and sometimes their very lives themselves, and are the people who step forward to keep our Zionist dream alive.
I will devote all of my strength, and even sacrifice my life, in the defense of the homeland and the freedom of Israel.”
– From the Induction Oath to the IDF
“Band of Brothers,” (Photo: (c) Tuvia Book, 2014)