Beth El's Guide to Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'Atzmaut
A siren pierces the air.
Bustling traffic comes to a standstill. Drivers park their cars on streets or in the middle of the highway, then stand silently next to their vehicles. The busyness of everyday life comes to a halt.
It’s Yom HaZikaron in Israel.
In 1963, the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) declared the fourth day of the month of Iyar to be Israel’s official Remembrance Day. Yom HaZikaron is a memorial for those intrepid men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice during the struggle for Israeli independence and for all military personnel who died while on active duty in Israel’s armed forces.
Yom HaZikaron is not a religious holiday, but it inspires awe nonetheless.
Unlike the American Memorial Day, which marks the unofficial start to summer with cookouts and trips to the beach, Yom HaZikaron is a somber day of reverence. Theaters, clubs, restaurants and other places of entertainment close for 24 hours from the time the first air raid siren sounds in the evening of April 17th. Today is for reflection; there will be plenty of time for celebrations in the days to come.
Tomorrow is Yom Ha’Atzmaut: Israel’s Independence Day
Israelis celebrate their independence on the fifth day of the month of Iyar, which is the Hebrew date of the formal establishment of the State of Israel. On that day, 70 years ago, members of Israel’s “provisional government” read and signed a Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv. The original date corresponded to May 14, 1948. In 2018, Yom Ha’Atzmaut begins at sundown on April 18.
Joining Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut together conveys a powerful message: Israelis owe the independence and the very existence of the Jewish state to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it.
For American Jews, celebrating Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut strengthens their connection to Israel. Here are a few customs you can practice to honor the two holidays:
- Honor a two-minute moment of silence at the beginning of Yom HaZikaron 1:00pm EST (8:00pm in Israel) on Tuesday, April 17th.
- Dress in white shirts and blue pants to honor fallen Israeli soldiers.
- Wear the special "Yizkor" sticker worn by Israelis during the day.
- Read Natan Alterman’s famous poem “The Silver Platter,” written in 1948 during the War of Independence.
- Sing and dance to Israeli folk songs once Yom Ha’Zikaron becomes Yom Ha’Atzmaut.
- Recite Hallel and Al Hanissim during Yom Ha’Atzmaut.
- Gather your family and friends for a hike and enjoy a picnic made of Israeli delicacies like hummus, babaganoush, and falafel.
No matter how you honor these holidays, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut unify Jews around the world under the undisputed Jewish connection to the land of Israel.