Each country observing memorial ceremonies for their fallen soldiers does so in a unique way, incorporating protocol imbedded in their cultural traditions. The same is true for countries celebrating their national independence. In Israel, the two days, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, when Israelis observe their fallen soldiers and immediately afterwards celebrate their national independence, are delineated by a millisecond.
Beginning at sundown on 4 Iyar of the Hebrew calendar, which occurs in either late to middle April or early May each year, Israel remembers their fallen soldiers on Yom Hazikaron, their memorial day, or national day of remembrance. Marked by dignified and somber ceremonies, and an air of solemnity across the country for a 24-hour period, there are moments when all activity comes to a full standstill. Around 8:00pm, a siren sounds throughout Israel’s cities, towns, and villages, signifying a unified nationwide moment of silence. Everything comes to a halt, including traffic, when drivers and passengers get out from their cars and stand erect with appropriate decorum, along the roadside, all in order to show respect and honor to the fallen. It is not uncommon to see people placing their right hand on their heart.
Later in the evening, an official state ceremony takes place at the Western Wall (the Kotel) in Jerusalem where the Israeli flag is lowered to half-mast.
The following morning, around 11:00 am, a siren sounds again, this time for two minutes, designating another moment of solemnity and silence when instantly, everything comes to a halt. Public and private memorial ceremonies continue across the country. The seriousness of the day concludes with a national military ceremony at Mount Herzl, and later, at sunset, after the 24-hour period of solemnity, the country moves from a moment of grief and sadness to outward expressions of jubilation and joy, a fitting way to welcome the start of Yom Haatzmaut—Israel’s Independence Day.
Immediately as Yom Hazikaron (the Day of Remembrance) ends, Israelis gear up for celebrations marking the beginning of Yom Haatzmaut (Day of Independence).
Yom Haatzmaut commemorates the day Israel became an independent country on 5 Iyar in 1948, coinciding, that year, with May 14 on the Gregorian calendar. Beginning at sundown, proud Israelis convene at Mount Herzl for an official state ceremony to signify the beginning of celebrations that will take place in almost every city, town, and village. The flag is raised from half-mast to the top of the pole and ceremonies begin. Featured programs include musical performances, speeches, and the iconic Lighting of the Twelve Torches event that symbolizes the Twelve Tribes of Israel. In Tel Aviv, thousands of people gather outside Rabin Square for holiday kick-off festivities. All of Israel is alight with dazzling displays of fireworks and exuberant celebrations.
The following day, the celebration continues and is highlighted by parades and various nationwide events, including the Independence Day Fly Over, the International Bible Contest in Jerusalem, and the prestigious Israel Prize ceremony, awarded to a select group of Israeli citizens who have displayed excellence in their professional discipline(s), or those individuals who have contributed significantly to Israeli culture.
Whether you’re celebrating with thousands of others gathered in the center of town wherever you may be or spending the day at one of Israel’s many national parks, or even relaxing at the beach, Yom Haatzmaut is definitely a day for celebrating the freedom of the Jewish state. In Israel, they know, without Yom Hazikaron and the sacrifice of their fallen soldiers, there is no opportunity for Yom Haatzmaut.
Visiting the Holy Land on the 4 Iyar and 5 Iyar on the Hebrew calendar, when the two days, one of sadness and one of joy, are clearly entwined, is an awesome opportunity to experience the way Israel honors their fallen and celebrates their independence. These two days, in essence, are inseparable, and serve as a strong reminder of Israel’s story of sacrifice and continued commitment to remaining independent and self-sufficient.
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