At 11 o’clock on the morning of Monday, April 15, Israel will come to a standstill. Sirens will wail and Israelis – along with Jews around the world – will pause to remember the thousands of soldiers and civilians who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Today, a look at Yom Hazikaron, remembrance day for Israel’s fallen.
Start by looking at their faces. Israel’s Ministry of Defence has created a moving site, and even if you can’t read Hebrew, it is heartbreaking to flip through the Yizkor pages and pause to glance at photographs of the young men and women who gave their lives for their country. If you do understand Hebrew, read a few biographies to learn about the lives cut short. [http://bit.ly/zikaron1]
By 2012, 22,993 soldiers and other security personnel had fallen. Since the second intifadah, many have extended Yom Hazikaron to remember security guards who gave their lives guarding public buildings, restaurants and cafes. [http://bit.ly/zikaron2] The Orthodox Union site traces the number of casualties and summarizes the major battles from pre-State times. [http://bit.ly/zikaron3]
Yom Hazikaron also honours the memory of civilians whose lives have been tragically cut short. Once again, the site created to remember them is in Hebrew, but the pictures that appear speak volumes. [http://bit.ly/zikaron4] The quotation at the top of the page is from Jeremiah 31:19: “For whenever I speak of him, I still remember him.”
Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s difficult to describe what it is like when the country stops for two minutes. But you can get a feel for it from the various videos found on YouTube – including when all motion stops on Israel’s busiest highway. [http://bit.ly/zikaron5]
At memorial services, Yizkor will be chanted, Kaddish will be uttered and poetry will be recited. A Hebrew poetry page has collected the works of some of the country’s premier poets including Natan Alterman, Naomi Shemer and Chana Senesh. It includes King David’s lament from the Book of Samuel II upon hearing of the deaths of Jonathan and Saul, “How the mighty have fallen.” [http://bit.ly/zikaron7] You can read selected poems in English at the American Zionist Movement page. [http://bit.ly/zikaron8]
It is almost impossible to understand the grief of a small country that has given up so many of its young. That’s why a memoir about the loss of one soldier has such an impact. Esther Wachsman’s son, Nachshon, was held ransom by Hamas in October 1994. The IDF launched a military rescue that failed, and Nachshon and the commander of the rescue mission were both killed. [http://bit.ly/zikaron9]
“The entire nation mourned with us,” Esther Wachsman writes. “Thousands came to comfort us, though no one can comfort a bereaved parent… Bus and taxi drivers who brought people from all over the country who wished to express their condolences left their vehicles and joined their passengers in our home. That unity, solidarity, caring, compassion and love with which we were showered gave us strength and filled our hearts with love for our people. After the shivah, we all returned to our routines… for that is what the Jewish People have always done – rebuilt after destruction, began new lives from the ashes and blood of the old.”