I am sitting at our Tel Aviv office with my colleagues discussing business matters during a regular business day that just happened to be the eve of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s national Memorial Day. "Remembrance Day" in Hebrew.
At 6:00, the whole office suddenly empties out as people head out to make it home before the siren goes off marking the beginning of Yom Hazikaron. Home in time to watch the opening ceremony service, broadcast from the Wall in Jerusalem, together with their friends and family.
Later in the evening, we walk toward the Tel Aviv beach just as the sun is setting. The beach is nearly empty but for a large group of young people gathered at the center of the promenade. We approach the gathering of hundreds, mostly young people in their 20s and 30s, some in uniforms, around a small stage setup by the Tel Aviv municipality. They are celebrating the life of a young soldier who died during an operation in Gaza.
With music, poetry and personal stories, they celebrate the life of a friend who died for his nation. Around us stood young men and women that we usually encounter at the bars and beaches of Tel Aviv; these fun-loving Israelis listened intently, intensely quiet, razor focused and somber. At 7:55, the program halts. We all wait for the siren.
At 8:00, the wailing of sirens, both far and near, breaks the silence. Everyone rises to honor the memory of Israel’s fallen heroes. For a brief minute, the entire nation pauses in unison to embrace this sacred moment of national remembrance.
After the service we keep walking along the beach toward our home in northern Tel Aviv. The streets, usually teeming with joyful crowds, are empty. Bars and restaurants locked with bar stools and chairs stacked upside down on empty tables, shop window displays totally dark. We catch a cab and as we drive by city hall, the entire building is decorated, in bright red letters, with one word.
Remembrance for Israelis is the essential building block that forms our national identity. There is no day on the calendar that more clearly defines our national purpose — and our joint responsibility to carry this purpose forward.
In the final days of 1947, struggling to survive the impossible odds of the War of Independence, Israel’s national poet Natan Alterman turned Chaim Weizmann's מגש הכסף into The Silver Platter:
And the land grows still, the red eye of the sky slowly dimming over smoking frontiers
As the nation arises, Torn at heart but breathing, To receive its miracle, the only miracle
As the ceremony draws near, it will rise, standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy
When across from it will step out a youth and a lass and slowly march toward the nation
Dressed in battle gear, dirty, Shoes heavy with grime, they ascend the path quietly
To change garb, to wipe their brow
They have not yet found time. Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth. Is still seen on their head
Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death
Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: "Who are you?"
And they will answer quietly, "We are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given."
Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told in the chronicles of Israel
On Yom Hazikaron, we acknowledge that even today, every Israeli is jointly responsible to defend their nation at all costs. This mutual responsibility — to defend and to remember — is best demonstrated together on Remembrance Day and on National Independence Day, which starts right after Yom Hazikaron. The symbolism of remembering the fallen just before celebrating the miracle of independence perfectly captures the spirit of Israel.
We remember so we can celebrate.
Throughout the day, many Israelis visit military cemeteries to honor family members and friends who have paid the ultimate price. Memorial services are held in every community.
Since the legacy (Moreshet) of national sacrifice is infused into the educational system, both of our granddaughters’ schools had parents of their classmates visit to share with the students their own experiences of service to the state. Photos of them — telling stories from the army, passing around articles of uniforms, answering students’ questions — later materialize on all the parents’ smartphones.
The faces are particular, but the experience is not unique.
This evening, the concluding national service for the fallen in Jerusalem officially marks the transition from somber reflection to the joyful celebration of Independence Day. After sunset tonight, Tel Aviv once again regains its reputation as the (self-proclaimed) most fun city in the world.
For another 364 days, Israelis will go on living life to its fullest in this ancient land, in this young nation, in this most volatile region, until the nation stops to reflect again on the 4th day of the month of Iyar, Yom Hazikaron 2022.