The Heroes’ Remembrance Day / יום הזיכרון לחללי מערכות ישראל

Posted: May 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

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Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers

Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers is aimed at unifying the citizens of Israel with the memory of the state’s fallen soldiers, whose sacrifice enabled Israel’s existence. This day is marked each year on the 4th of the Hebrew month of Iyar or in proximity to that date, and it is always marked one day before Independence Day, emphasizing and symbolizing the connection between the fallen and their devotion, and with the establishment of the State of Israel.

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.

Memorial Day is also in commemoration for deceased members of the Israeli Police, the General Security Service, and the Mossad.

Memorial Day begins at sundown and ends at sundown the following day. Its events open at 8:00PM with a one-minute siren that is heard across the state, followed by a national ceremony held at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The ceremony is attended by the President and the Chief of Staff. Other gatherings and services are held throughout the state.

The following day, a two-minute siren is sounded across the state at 11:00AM, followed by national memorial services held in all military cemeteries. These are attended by the families of the fallen, public figures and representatives of the government, police and the security forces. The central service is held at the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem.

The services held in military cemeteries across the country include the lowering of the state’s flag to half-mast, a special “Yizkor” prayer, a speech by a public figure such as Knesset members and government ministers, an “El Maleh Rachamim” prayer sung by a military cantor, and wreath-laying by representatives of institutions and organizations. The ceremonies usually end with a military gun salute.

Other ceremonies are held at memorials for the fallen, educational institutes, military bases and public institutions. The media broadcasts programs on the fallen, their acts of bravery and their heritage.

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. All services during this day are held by the local authorities and IDF representatives.

The torch-lighting ceremony at Mt. Herzl is the closing event of the Memorial Day, and the opening ceremony for Independence Day.

Memorial services for the fallen soldiers of the War of Independence were held in 1949 – 1950 on Independence Day. The unit of commemoration at the Ministry of Defense was responsible, together with the IDF, for holding the services at the military cemeteries. However, the combination between the grief of mourning and the happiness of independence created an emotionally difficult atmosphere. Several suggestions were made on the proper date for holding Memorial Day, and the request of the families of the fallen to hold a national memorial day was given great consideration in the public debate. In January 1951, Minister of Defense David Ben-Gurion established the Public Council for Soldiers’ Commemoration, which was made partner in discussions concerning the commemoration of the fallen. The council recommended that the 4th of Iyar – a day prior to Independence Day – will become the “General Memorial Day for the Heroes of the War of Independence.” This suggestion was approved by the government for marking the third Memorial Day.

A special committee was formed consisting of the head of the commemoration unit in the Ministry of Defense and members of the Public Council for Soldiers’ Commemoration, aimed at formulating the traditions of that day. Among these were the sounding of a siren, lighting of memorial candles, holding prayers and ceremonies in military cemeteries, saying of “Yizkor,” holding ceremonies in schools, and the broadcasting of special radio programs on the fallen. These rituals are in practice to this day.

The Heroes’ Remembrance Day (War of Independence and Israel Defense Army) Law-1963, approved by the Knesset on March 27th 1963, granted official validation to the decisions made by the public council, which based its recommendations on requests made by the families of the fallen.

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. A plot was dedicated in their memory at the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl, in which the national memorial service is held each year. The names of all soldiers in an unknown resting place are engraved on a wall built in their honor on Mt. Herzl.

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