Sunday, April 14, 2013

Israel Remembers Its Fallen, Celebrates Independence Day

2016 Update - Israel celebrates its 68th birthday this year and we pay tribute to the brave soldiers who gave their lives as they fought on our behalf. These days we are still fighting for our existence, combating terrorists and their supporters - the battle for our independence has not yet been one.

Today we bow our heads solemnly and tomorrow we will celebrate. Life goes on.

It is always quite hard - the sudden shift from Israel's Memorial Day (which starts Sunday night, April 14), to Israel's Independence Day (which commences just 24 hours later). One moment we are solemn, our cinemas are closed and we are visiting the country's many military cemeteries, remembering our fallen soldiers. Then, hours later, we are dancing in the streets, wildly celebrating our Independence Day. This year Israel is marking its 65th birthday.

Without the efforts of our brave soldiers who fell in defense of our country, Israel would not be the free, democratic nation that it is today. Before we can celebrate, we must give proper tribute to those who helped bring us to this day.

23,085 members of Israel's security services have given their lives in Israel's ongoing struggle for existence. The solemnity of Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron in Hebrew) is the country's way of honoring the contribution of its fallen soldiers. In addition, Memorial Day commemorates the 2,493 civilians who were killed in terror attacks against the Jewish state.

In my community, Moshav Neve Ilan, we fondly remember Danny Wein, a young boy who grew up on the moshav and was part of our extended family. Danny fell in the line of duty at age 19. We have dedicated a lookout point in Danny's memory. Members and residents of the moshav mark the start of Memorial Day with a torch-lit ceremony at the top of the hill inside Neve Ilan, where the original settlement was established in 1946.

Memorial Day starts at 8 p.m., with a country-wide siren that brings all Israelis to their feet for a minute's silence. A second siren sounds Tuesday morning at 11 a.m., followed by memorial ceremonies at the Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem and in all the country's military cemeteries.

Plastic hammers, car flags, and barbecues

Independence Day, (Yom Ha'atzmaut in Hebrew) which begins the moment that Memorial Day ends, is an entirely different kind of holiday. Independence Eve is a time of dancing in the streets and bopping passers-by on the head with plastic hammers. There are concerts and street performances in the cities and neighborhoods. The whole country is decked out in blue and white. Plastic flags, attached to car windows, have been flapping noisily in traffic for several days.

It seems that everyone in Israel spends Independence Day in the country's parks, at the military bases open to the public, or on the beaches. Not too many watch it on television, but the International Bible Contest for Jewish Youth takes place on Independence Day.

Families gather to participate in the most important event of the Independence Day festivities - the barbecue. Driving past picnic spots you see men huddled over their small barbecue kits, fanning the burning coals to speed up the grilling of kebab and chicken wings. The holiday may appeal a bit less to vegetarians, but at least they'll have an opportunity to enjoy the pitot, humous, tehina, and vegetable salads that play major roles in the picnic meals.

Israel is 65 years young

Even at the ripe old age of 65, Israel is very much a young country. There is so much ahead, so much to build and so much to decide. The separation between religion and state, and even Israel's final borders and its relations with its neighbors, have not yet been determined to everyone's satisfaction.

I have lived in Israel for more than 40 years, and have celebrated Israel's Independence Day multiple times in the past. There is still a place in this country for the contribution of additional pioneers and visionaries. The story of Israel has just begun. Am Yisrael Chai, the nation of Israel lives!

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