Established unofficially with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, and enacted into law in 1963, the day preceding Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) is observed as Yom HaZikaron, the memorial day for soldiers who lost their lives in battle or while otherwise defending Israel.
Memorial services for the fallen soldiers of the War of Independence were helpd on Independence Day in 1949–1950; however, the combination between the grief of mourning and the happiness of independence created an emotionally difficult atmosphere and the families of the fallen suggested creating a national memorial day. In January 1951, Minister of Defense David Ben-Gurion created a committee to make a recommendation and it was decided that the fourth of Iyar every year would become the “General Memorial Day for the Heroes of the War of Independence” – Yom HaZikaron.
The Knesset anchored the marking of this day within the Heroes’ Remembrance Day (War of Independence and Israel Defense Army) Law-1963. The law was renamed in a 1980 amendment as the “Memorial Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars Law.” The significance of this change was in its expansion from a memorial day of the fallen soldiers of the state to a memorial day that includes all those killed in action during pre-state battles as well as deceased members of the Israeli Police, the General Security Service, and the Mossad.
Perhaps because most of the Israeli population has relatives or close friends who have died defending Israel, Yom HaZikaron is widely observed throughout all sectors of Israel, with the exception of most Arabs (Druze and Beduoin being notable exceptions) and non-Zionist Haredi Jews. Beginning at sunset the night before and lasting throughout the entire day, places of entertainment are closed by law while shops, restaurants and movie theaters are shut down by tradition. The radio and television stations play stories about Israel’s wars and air programming that conveys the somber mood of the day.
Statistics for Yom Hazikaron
Fallen Military Personnel
Israelis Killed in Terror Attacks
Perhaps the most widely recognized commemoration during Yom HaZikaron, as on Yom HaShoah, is the sounding of an air raid siren twice during the course of the day. During the two-minute blasts, all activity – including traffic on the highways – immediately ceases. People stand in respect for the sacrifice of those who died defending Israel. The first siren marks the beginning of Yom HaZikaron and the second is sounded prior to the public recitation of prayers in military cemeteries.
Numerous public ceremonies are held throughout Israel with special readings and poems often recited. Israeli soldiers and police officers placed a small flag on every grave of those who have fallen in defense of the Jewish state. There is a national ceremony at the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl, where many of Israel’s leaders and soldiers are buried. Many schools and public buildings have corners with memorials to those from their community who died in Israel’s wars.
While mostly viewed in a secular national character, there is also a religious component to Yom HaZikaron. There is a special yizkor (memorial prayer) and “El Maleh Rachamim” memorial prayer for members of the Israeli Defense Forces who died in the line of duty, which is read at many of the Yom HaZikaron ceremonies. Some members of the national religious Zionist community have also added special prayers to the evening prayers on Yom HaZikaron. The mourner's kaddish is often said.
The services held in 52 military cemeteries across the country include the lowering of the flag to half-mast, a speech by a public figure, the singing of “El Maleh Rachamim” by a military cantor, and wreath-laying. The ceremonies usually end with a military gun salute.
A national service is held at 13:00 in memory of victims of terrorist acts, taking place at the central memorial in their honor at Mt. Herzl.
The Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers Whose Place of Burial is Unknown was fixed by the Chief Rabbinate on the 7th of Adar, noted as the day of birth and death of the biblical figure of Moses. The names of all soldiers in an unknown resting place are engraved on a wall built in their honor on Mt. Herzl.
A torch-lighting ceremony at Mt. Herzl is the closing event of Yom HaZikaron. In tune with the Jewish tradition of recognizing joy in times of sadness and sadness in times of joy, Yom HaZikaron’s somber end heralds the beginning of the joyous and festive Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day).
Yom HaZikaron is one of four new holidays that were added to the Jewish national calendar since the creation of Israel. The other three are Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs’ Day), Yom Ha’atzmaut, and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).