Yom HaZikaron & Yom HaAtzmaut are back-to-back holidays celebrated one day after the other, taking place just one week following Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The holiday of Yom HaZikaron is Israel's Memorial Day, meant to honor fallen soldiers as well as victims of terror. The somber day begins at nightfall (all days in the Jewish world being at nightfall and end the next night at nightfall). Flags are at half mast, entertainment and business are closed, somber programs appear on TV as well as somber music on the radio. It is a true national day of mourning, meant to be experienced by all. At 8 p.m., a loud siren is sounded throughout all communities in Israel and the world comes to a stop - music goes off, cars stop, restaurants become quiet and all you can hear is the sound of the wailing siren as well as tears being cried. The next morning at 11 a.m., the second siren goes off for another 2-minute tribute, during which we continue to remember the fallen soldiers and the terrorism victims. Almost anywhere you are, you can find a ceremony taking place for the memorial. For me, it was very sad to be here at Hadassah's University Hospital which looks out over Hebrew University, where a good friend of my family was murdered in a July 2002 bombing. I also thought of Gilad Shalit and how lucky he is to be home.
In typical Israel fashion, somber moments are almost always followed by celebration. Life goes on. That is why the nation's national Independence Day, called Yom HaAtzmaut, is celebrated at nightfall the very next day. Within moments, we go from crying into having a wild celebration in honor of Israel's 1948 independence. If you were in Israel right now, you would find raging parties and streets filled with music, celebrants, Israeli flags and all kinds of festive energy. It's exactly like the 4th of July, but wilder. Also, since the partying starts at night, prior to the next full day, it's almost two full days of fun. You will find most Israelis packed into parks and on the beach tomorrow, barbecuing, water skiing and having all kinds of typical Independence-day fun. It's too bad I'm stuck here in the hospital! Maybe we'll get permission to sneak out for an hour or two for a fun local outing. Usually we would have headed for Tel Aviv to Gan YeHoshua, Israel's "central park" so to speak.
These holidays really signal that beautiful weather is upon us and that the great spring/summer seasons are finally here. To me, it's one of the best times to come and visit Israel. Whoever is celebrating out there, I wish you a nice holiday weekend.