Beginning Tuesday night, April 24, Israel will commemorate Yom Hazikaron, the country’s official memorial day. The 24-hour mourning period will begin with a one-minute siren at 8 p.m. At that time, Israelis will stop what they are doing, wherever they are, and stand at attention — even if they are on the highway, they will stop their cars and stand outside for 60 seconds.
This year, as flags across the country are lowered to half-staff, Israel will remember the 22,993 soldiers and security servicemen who died for the country since 1860, when the first Jews began settling outside of Jerusalem’s Old City walls.
In a small country such as Israel, with a population of fewer than eight million people, a high percentage of families acutely feel the pain of Memorial Day. For example, in just one war, the War of Independence, Israel lost one percent of its population at the time. Everybody felt the loss in some way.
On Memorial Day, we will remember the countless victims of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks — on buses, at nightclubs, in restaurants or on a university campus. And we will remember the heroes who sacrificed their own lives in order to prevent suicide bombers from murdering dozens more.
As the sun sets on Israeli Memorial Day, Yom Haatzmaut — Israeli Independence Day — begins immediately. The mood on the streets changes from sadness to joy. Fireworks displays are seen across the country, and Israeli flags return to full staff.
The fact that Memorial Day and Independence Day are back-to-back is no coincidence. Israelis are acutely aware that without the sacrifice of thousands of IDF soldiers, there would be no state of Israel. Before freedom can be celebrated, the cost must be recognized.
This year, Israel will celebrate the 64th anniversary of its birth on May 14, 1948. On that day, the 5th of Iyar on the Hebrew calendar, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s Declaration of Independence from a hot and overcrowded Tel Aviv art museum.
Independence Day celebrations are not confined to Israel. For Jews around the world, celebrating the existence of the modern state of Israel is as important as observing other ancient Jewish holidays. From the United States and Canada to France and Argentina, local Jewish organizations representing all streams of Judaism celebrate Israeli independence.