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Israel Does it Right

Today, April 22nd, marks the Israeli holiday of Yom Hazikaron—a Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism. Observed since 1963, this holiday officially begins around 8 pm the night prior, when a siren is sounded through the country. Out of respect, Israelis stop what they are doing—even driving on the highway—and take a moment of silence to commemorate the brave soldiers who lost their lives protecting their country, as well as those who became unfortunate victims of terrorist acts. Another siren is sounded around 11 am the next morning.

Can you imagine an event—besides a multi-lane accident—that would stop traffic in the city of Los Angeles alone, much less across the U.S.?

In addition to these nationwide moments of silence, theaters, clubs and bars across the country are shut down. The Israeli flag is lowered to half-mast. At the Western Wall, there is a ceremony, and many Israelis visit cemeteries where their loved ones have been laid to rest. On TV, a government-owned station screens the names of all of the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism—since the 1940s—throughout the day.

By comparison, what do most U.S. citizens do on our national Memorial Day? We go on vacations to maximize our three-day weekends. We go to the movie theater, because ours are all open. We have barbecues. Sure, there are ceremonies and parades across the country, including some excellent commemorations in Los Angeles, but nothing that compares to the large-scale observance, no matter how short, of citizens pulling over on the highway to observe a two-minute silence. This is the kind of respect the fallen deserve. Israel got it right.

Yom Hazikaron precedes Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, which is celebrated this year on April 23rd. It is a reminder of the official establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Highlighted by a ceremony every year on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the celebration includes a speech by the speaker of the Knesset, as well as cultural performances and a torch lighting for each of the 12 Tribes of Israel. There is also an Israel Prize ceremony and International Bible Contest in Jerusalem on this day, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) opens its bases to the public. Families celebrate their Independence Day much like we do here, with flags, picnics and barbecues. But on Yom Ha’atzmaut, again an alarm is sounded throughout the country. Again, traffic stops.

Without causing an accident or impeding the flow of traffic, how can we honor these two very important holidays here in the U.S.? We can light Yahrzeit (memorial) candles. We can observe moments of silence. And we can continue promoting Israel advocacy and education by supporting our Federation’s work.

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