Only in Israel: Where else in the world could there be such a somber, yet bold and joyous national mash-up of remembrance and celebration in the pairing of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut?

Only a breath separates the two holidays. As the sun goes down on Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day), a day of sorrow turns to the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

Yom Ha’Atzmaut commemorates May 14, 1948, the fifth day of Iyar on the Hebrew calendar, the day the modern Jewish State of Israel was born. Annually, on the Hebrew anniversary of that date, Israelis and Jews throughout the Diaspora unite in celebration. Not unlike our Fourth of July, Yom Ha’Atzmaut customarily is celebrated with exuberant flag-waving, parades with singing and dancing in the streets, music festivals, family barbeques and fireworks.

A time for remembrance, a time for affirmation 

Never far from that enduring spirit of celebration, there is the collective national memory. Yom HaZikaron – Remembrance Day is a time for mourning and a time for resilience – a time to honor the sons and daughters of Israel who have fallen so that the nation as a Jewish homeland may continue to stand. Unlike our Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron has personal significance for each and every Israeli, because virtually everyone in the country who has lost someone – a family member, a friend or neighbor in Israel’s wars or through acts of terror. Without the sacrifice of every generation since the establishment of Israel, there would be no Independence Day to celebrate.

In their proximity and contrast, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut honor those who live on with courage and hope for Israel’s future. The two holidays observed together are in keeping with the Jewish philosophy that we must never forget the sorrowful times, for they make the good times all the sweeter and better.

Yom HaZikaron is observed for a full 24 hours on the fourth day of Iyar on the Hebrew calendar. It is a solemn day of civil, military and religious ceremonies beginning with an official ceremony at the Western Wall and the lighting of remembrance candles in army camps, schools, synagogues and public places throughout the country. Flags are lowered to half-staff, places of entertainment are closed for the day by law. Radio and television stations play programs about Israel’s wars and show programing that reflects the somber mood of the day.

As on Yom HaShoah (Remembrance of the Holocaust), air raid sirens are sounded twice during Yom HaZikaron. With the first siren sounded in the morning, just before the nation’s public ceremony, the entire country comes to a complete standstill. Busy traffic grinds to a halt, people stop in mid-sentence, drivers park their cars and stand at attention on the side of the road, as the entire country observes two minutes of silence. At nightfall, immediately prior to the public recitation of prayers in military cemeteries, the sirens again sound. In Jerusalem, 12 torches are lit to signify that Memorial Day officially has ended and Independence Day is about to begin.

First impressions

Sally- Mission IV-

Sally Krugel, Miracle Mission IV Staff Director, at work in Israel, 2004

What is it like to be in Israel on a glorious spring day during the national holidays of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut?  Here’s a sampling of responses from Jewish Detroiters who have been there.

From Sally Krugel, Director, Federation’s Miracle Mission IV

“I’ll never forget the Yom HaZikaron we experienced together as a delegation of nearly 80 young Detroiters on a national UJC Mission of 3,500 participants. Our group was at Mount Herzl in the evening, along with hundreds of Israelis, when we heard that Dymshitz and Kutnetsov (two famous heroes in the Refusenik movement who had been sentenced to death) just arrived in Israel and were coming to Mount Herzl!  The news electrified us. One of our Detroit leaders had been wearing a bracelet in solidarity with the Refuseniks for years. She couldn’t contain herself and managed to make her way through the crowd, get through the security and actually hand the bracelet to them! An unforgettable moment for all of us.”

From Larry Jackier, Past President of Federation, Co-Chair Michigan Miracle Mission II and leader of multiple missions to Israel

We have our Memorial Day, but Israel takes Yom HaZikaron to a whole different level. What is absolutely stunning for me – particularly the first time I experienced it on a UJC Mission in 1976 — is to see the entire country simultaneously stop and come to attention. I was just a neophyte on a bus – part of the Young Leaders Delegation from Detroit (on the same mission with Richard and Sally Krugel) when suddenly we stopped, got out and stood on the side of the road as the sirens sounded. Really, it’s an audio and visceral experience. As you’re standing in place listening to the one siren closest to you, you hear other sirens go off one-by-one in the distance – like a chain reaction. The effect is an awesome chorus of sound that gives you the overwhelming impression that the entire country is standing in unison. There’s nothing like it in the world.

And I’ll never forget our visit to Mt. Herzl – Israel’s Military Cemetery – later that  evening. You know, in Israel, there’s no differentiation between soldiers’ graves by rank. Every soldier is equal. That, in itself, is amazing and unique to Israel. But to be in that cemetery at sundown – and to join thousands of Israelis breaking out from sorrow to joy and excitement is an unforgettable experience.”

Larry Jackier, Co-Chair of Federation's Miracle Mission II with Jane Sheman and Michael Berke.  (1999)

Larry Jackier,(left) Co-Chair, Michigan Miracle Mission II with Jane Sherman and Michael Berke, 1995

From Marta Rosenthal, past chair of Federation’s Israel and Overseas Committee and Partners2Gether Michigan Steering Committee

“I was in our P2G Region with dear friends from Migdal Ha’Emek. They took me to the community’s ceremony for Yom HaZikaron. So sad and emotional for all. And, that same night, I’ll never forget– we were in the streets dancing and watching fireworks. Amazing! From tears to absolute joy!

In Israel on Mission IV with friends, Marta Rosenthal, (center). 2004

Marta Rosenthal (third from left) in Israel on Miracle Mission IV with friends, 2004.

From Marianne Bloomberg, Federation’s Financial Resource Development Associate

“I was fortunate to be a staff person on Federation’s Miracle Mission 1 back in 1993. We spent Yom HaZikaron in Jerusalem and Yom Ha’Atzmaut in our sister city of Yavne. Nothing like the low of Yom HaZikaron to the high of Yom Ha’Atzmaut. You can’t explain it and you just want every Jewish person to be able to have the experience at least once.”

From Danielle Longo, Associate, Federation’s Israel & Overseas Department, and former Masa Israel Teaching Fellow

It’s that feeling, the one where the goose bumps are felt second only to the filling with emotion of one’s heart. Standing together, listening to the shrill of the siren, remembering those brave and amazing souls who died for Israel. I can only feel grateful, lucky and humbled that I am an Jew.”

A Day to Remember as We Stand Together

Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s National Memorial Day
Sunday, May 4, 2014   5:30 P.M.

The Berman Center for the Performing Arts
6000 West Maple Road, West Bloomfield

Let us join together to honor those who have fallen so that Israel may continue to stand.  Kindly be seated by 5:15 p.m. so that we may start promptly.  There is no charge for this community-wide commemoration. For more information, contact Alicia at 248-642-5617 or Felhandler@jfmd.org.

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