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Happy Birthday Israel!

Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzamaut:
Remembering Israel's Soldiers and
Celebrating Israel's Independence

Yom HaZikaron, Remembrance Day, is the day on which Israel honors its fallen servicemen and women. The remembrance begins in the evening at 8 pm with the sounding of the air raid siren all over Israel for one minute. The following morning at 11 am the siren sounds again for 2 minutes. During both of these times everything in Israel stops as Israelis remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for Israel.

After the evening siren is the national memorial service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Here prayers are said for the soldiers and the Israeli flag is lowered to half-staff. Israel’s political and military leadership lead the country in honoring the fallen. At the same time communities across Israel hold ceremonies to honor the fallen from those communities.

The next morning following the morning siren ceremonies are held at each cemetery where soldiers who died in action are buried. During the entirety of Yom HaZikaron Israeli television stations and radio stations either stop broadcasting or only broadcast programs honoring the fallen soldiers. One of the national television stations broadcasts a program with a brief story about each soldier who gave his or her life for Israel. Sadly, the list gets longer each Remembrance Day.

Yom HaZikaron draws to a close with an official ceremony on Mount Herzl. The Israeli flag is raised to full-staff and a second national holiday, Yom HaAtzamaut, begins. Yom HaAtzamaut is Israeli Independence Day and in contrast of the previous day of mourning, a day of celebration. In communities across Israel there are parties with Israeli folk dancing, food, musical shows, performances by children and fireworks. The following day is a national holiday so businesses and government offices are closed. Families spend time together having picnics and barbeques and enjoying the nature of Israel. IDF bases are open for tours and there are patriotic parades. Yom HaAtzamaut closes with the final official ceremony of the holidays with the awarding the Israel Prize. This is the highest award in Israel and it recognizes achievement and contribution to Israel’s culture, science, arts and humanities.

You may have noticed that in Israel Independence Day directly follows Remembrance Day. This deliberate scheduling is intended to remind all citizens of the price of independence and freedom. In Israel there is national conscription, therefore, nearly all citizens have served in the IDF. Being a small country, almost everyone knows a soldier or family of a soldier who sacrificed his or her life for Israel. We owe our country to those who gave their lives defending her.

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