Founded in 1948, Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) marks the establishment of the State of Israel. The Israeli Knesset (Parliament) declared that the preceding day be Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, for those who lost their lives defending the State of Israel while serving in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Jewish holidays last for 24 hours, from sundown to sundown, which means that Israeli Independence Day begins the moment Memorial Day ends.
While on a gap year program between high school and college, I was fortunate to experience the transition from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut firsthand in Israel. Transitioning from a somber day to a day of celebration may seem a bit strange or perhaps difficult, but I found it be one of the most moving and emotional days of my year. I went from feeling profound, inexplicable sadness to smiling and dancing hand-in-hand with my favorite people.
An excerpt from my May 7, 2008 journal:
As of sundown the previous night it was Yom Hazikaron. From the moment the sun set, I knew the day was going to be different. The world just seemed quieter. I awoke early in my apartment and went to meet the rest of my friends attending a memorial at a huge cemetery. Even though I am an American, my only friends and family who’ve served in the military have served in the IDF. I have been fortunate to never lose a friend or family member in the active line of duty. In the United States I have never visited a cemetery or been to a memorial on Memorial Day. In fact, modern day Memorial Day is typically spent outside with family and friends enjoying the sunshine. In Israel the day felt different. Every citizen is deeply affected by Memorial Day because every citizen serves in the IDF.
This year, we were attending a tekes (ceremony) and going to hear the siren along with hundreds of people. On Yom Hazikaron, the nationwide siren is sounded twice throughout the country, during which the entire nation observes a moment of silence. All traffic, all speaking, and all movement stops. For exactly two minutes the entire country falls still and everyone is silent. In that moment we were all one — our minds and our hearts all thinking the same thoughts — of those who sacrificed their lives and independence so we can have ours.
The rest of the afternoon was spent listening to speakers, watching films, and hearing stories about different people, both Israelis and other nationalities, who gave their lives for Israel. By the end of the day we were emotionally exhausted. I returned to my apartment with a couple of friends uninterested in the celebration that we were to be attending in a matter of hours. We sat on our rooftop looking over the neighborhood and reflected on the day, the people we met, and the stories we heard. Come sundown everything changed and a new day began. We once again fell silent and that’s when we heard the fireworks.
It was as if the world had shifted. The sky lit up and people began cheering. A different energy filled the air and I could not help but feel excited. It was Yom Ha’atzmaut and the 60th anniversary of the foundation of Israel. We spent the night in Tel Aviv at a street celebration. I knew right then and there that I would always remember being in Israel on Israel’s 60th birthday. For me, this was a once in a life time thing.
Each year, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, I think of that day. I remember the people I met, the sound of the siren, the feeling of unity, and watching the fireworks from my rooftop. Joining these two holidays may seem like an anomaly, but to me it bears a simple message: We owe the independence and the existence of Israel to the people who sacrificed their lives for it.
– Elana Sable, Administrative Coordinator