Yom HaZikaron highlights differences between American, Israeli military culture

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By Rachel Kalusin
For the Mitzpeh
@rkalusin

Yom HaZikaron is the day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers and the victims of terror in Israel. This year the holiday is commemorated on the evening of April 30 through sundown tonight, May 1. Memorial Day serves the same purpose in the U.S., but the two holidays have more differences than similarities.

“I honestly have no idea what Memorial Day is,” said Kaleena Dwyer, a junior journalism major. “I think it’s for soldiers who have died for our country.”

Junior government and politics major Sani Nabatkhorian said, “On Memorial Day in the U.S. those connected to the military go to cemeteries and attend memorial services, but most people do not feel a direct connection to the military.”

This stands in contrast to the society in Israel, where almost every person has served in the military.

Junior journalism major Jonathan Orbach expanded on this difference.

“It’s more of a sentimental/meaningful event in Israel because of the difference in its military’s role in day-to-day life. Since participation in the army is required in Israel—coupled with the notion that it’s used for vastly different reasons—Yom HaZikaron is taken more seriously,” said Orbach. “It’s likelier you’d know a fallen soldier if you lived in Israel than if you lived in America.”

Memorial Day is commemorated very differently in the U.S. than in Israel, apart from both countries putting their flag at half-staff.

In Israel the holiday begins at 8 p.m., and a siren sounds across the country. The siren lasts for one minute, during which every Israeli in the country stops what they’re doing, including driving, to stand and remember the soldiers who have died in service. Again the following day the siren sounds at 11 a.m., except it is two minutes long, and the same procedure is followed.

There are many ceremonies in Israel, but the official state ceremony takes place in Jerusalem at the Western Wall, at the start of the holiday. During the day, many Israelis visit the cemeteries where their lost relatives are buried. A ceremony in the evening at Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery, marks the end of the holiday and the start of their Independence Day.

The U.S. celebrates the holiday in a different manner, starting with schools closing, giving students a long weekend for vacation so military families can visit the graves of their loved ones who died in service. The government also holds a concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol in honor of the deceased. Many Americans also attend Memorial Day parades, which often feature bands, marching veterans and military-themed floats.

Rabbi Ari Koretzky, executive director of MEOR Maryland, offered further insight into  differences between Israeli and American memorial practices.

“In Judaism we don’t simply ‘remember.’ Rather, we use memory as a tool for growth and personal introspection,” Koretzky said. “In the U.S., it tends to be a celebration with little regard for the content of the day; in Judaism, we are deeply attuned to the day’s meaning, and its solemn overtone reflects this reality.”

Junior history major Ben Shemony said the importance of Yom HaZikaron is not just commemorating the lives lost at war, but also commemorating those who fought for a Jewish state, and the ability to protect and rescue Jews all over the world.

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