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Sirens or Sales: Memorial Day

My family and I moved back to Israel six years ago.

Six years is a short period of time. Whether I want to or not, I still find myself comparing daily life in Israel to how things are back in the US. As a writer, I enjoy sharing these tidbits -- especially when the contrast is a big one.

This week presents a perfect example.

On Monday, America celebrated -- commemorated? -- Memorial Day. For most, Memorial Day marks the official start of summer -- a day off from work and school, a chance to go swimming at the neighborhood pool, maybe catch the newly-released blockbuster at the multiplex.

Now don't get me wrong -- I am not trying to put down America here. But to be completely honest, it always kinda bugged me that Memorial Day was more about bike rides and barbecues than remembering soldiers who died.

America's treatment of Memorial Day just felt, you know...perverse.

Israel, on the other hand...

Those of you who've lived in Israel know that Israel's Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, is pretty much the complete opposite.

No picnics. No parades. No "Jump Into Summer Memorial Day Sale, All Swing Sets 30% Off!"

Instead, it's a somber, solemn day for the entire country. Because the sad truth is, just about every Israeli knows someone – a family member, friend, the neighbor of a colleague from work – who was killed during his or her military service, or in a terror attack.

The focal point of the day is a two-minute siren that sounds at 11AM. When the siren wails, the country comes to a halt: Students stand next to their desks. Drivers get out of their cars and stand in the road.

In a moment I'll ask you to send me any Yom Hazikaron memories of your own. But first, two of mine:

DJ in tears. On Yom Hazikaron, radio stations typically play sad, downbeat songs. No rock ‘n roll or rap, just a slow classics by Evyatar Banai, Naomi Shemer, and other favorites. I’ll never forget how on Yom Hazikaron 2021, the DJ of the popular morning show Medinah B'derech ("A Nation On the Way") broke down crying as she remembered a childhood friend who, as a soldier, was killed in Gaza.

Makeshift Memorial in Lebanon. The first time I experienced Yom Hazikaron in Israel I wasn't technically in Israel, but just over the border in Lebanon, a tank soldier at a remote outpost called Esh'yeh. As the sun set, the Golani infantry soldiers serving with us built a makeshift memorial out of an empty tin ammunition box and a rifle-cleaning rag sprinkled with gasoline, which they then lit with a match. The "Golanchikim" – typically a loud, raucous bunch – took turns voluntarily standing guard over the flame for 24 hours.

In many ways, Yom Hazikaron epitomizes for me what makes Israel so complicated but also so special. Complicated because there's no way to separate everyday life from the realities of war.

And special because people don't take that lack of separation for granted.

In the book I'm writing about Israel now, I dedicate a full chapter to Yom Hazikaron. I want readers to appreciate the day the way I do.


I'd love to hear your own Yom Hazikaron memories, either that you've experienced in Israel on wherever you live. You can email me on the Contact page.


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