Yom HaZikaron & Yom HaAtzmaut
Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, four new holidays have been added to the Jewish calendar – Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), and Yom Y’rushalayim (Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the reunification of the city in 1967). In Israel, these days are observed as national holidays; around the world, they are observed in various ways by Jewish communities.
The Israeli Knesset (parliament) established the day that precedes Yom HaAtzmaut as Yom HaZikaron, a day to memorialize soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and subsequent battles, as well as a day to remember civilian victims of terrorism. The official State name given to the day is Yom HaZikaron LeChalalei Maarachot Yisrael ul’Nifg’ei Peulot HaEivah (יוֹם הזִּכָּרוֹן לַחֲלָלֵי מַעֲרָכוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְנִפְגְעֵי פְּעוּלוֹת הָאֵיבָה) which means “Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism” and was enacted into law in 1963.
Yom HaAtzmaut marks the anniversary of the establishment of the modern state of Israel. It is observed on or near the 5th of the Hebrew month of Iyar on the Jewish calendar, which usually falls in April.
Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) memorializes those who gave their lives in defense of the State of Israel, as well as civilian victims of terrorism. The Israeli Knesset (parliament) established the day before Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) as a national day of public mourning to remember and honor soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and in subsequent battles. It is a solemn day during which all places of entertainment are closed and two-minute sirens are sounded throughout all of Israel, one in the evening to mark the beginning of the holiday and one in the morning, prior to the nation’s public memorial ceremony.
Scheduling Yom HaZikaron right before Yom HaAtzmaut is intended to remind people of the sacrifice soldiers and their families and friends have paid for Israel’s independence and security. The transition demonstrates the importance of this day among Israelis, most of whom have served in the armed forces or have a connection with people who were killed during military service.
Yom HaZikaron begins with an official ceremony at the Western Wall, as the flag of Israel is lowered to half-staff. Places of entertainment are closed for the day by law and radio and television stations broadcast programs about Israel’s wars and that convey the somber mood of the day.
As on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), air raid sirens are sounded twice in Israel during Yom HaZikaron. During the sirens’ soundings, the entire country comes to a complete stop: bulldozers are turned off, cranes hang empty in the air, and cars get parked on the sides of streets as their occupants stand silently alongside their vehicles. The first siren marks the beginning of Israel’s Memorial Day at 8 p.m. Israel time, and the second is sounded at 11 a.m., immediately prior to the public recitation of prayers in military cemeteries.
Numerous public ceremonies are held throughout Israel, including a national ceremony at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl, where many of Israel’s leaders and soldiers are buried. Schools and public buildings often hold memorials for those from their community who died in Israel’s wars.
In the evening, at the official ceremony of Israel Independence Day on Mount Herzl, the day draws to a close when the Israeli flag is returned to full-staff.
To observe Yom HaZikaron:
Host a ceremony at your synagogue or school to commemorate the day by reading 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).
If you have a connection to someone who died, you might choose to wear the special Yizkor sticker Israelis wear during the day.
Stand at attention for two minutes alongside Israelis at 8 p.m. Israel time on the evening of the holiday, or at 11 a.m. Israel time the following morning.