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Celebrating Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut In Israel (Memorial Day and Independence Day in Israel)

Jews and Israelis know how to celebrate, but they also unfortunately, know how to mourn.

Tonight begins Yom HaZikaron - a day of memorials and concomitant appreciation for lives sacrificed, which is immediately followed by Yom Haatzmaut, a day of tremendous joy celebrating the creation and ongoing defense of the nation state of Israel.

Why Do We Celebrate Yom HaZikaron Before Yom Haatzmaut?

We remember the dead first because their sacrifice gave the Jewish people sovereignty over the land of Israel and a place for all Jews to call their home. How can we celebrate the independence of our country without first commemorating those who sacrificed their lives to make it a reality?

How To Celebrate Yom HaZikaron in Israel

On the evening of Yom Hazikaron, sirens sound throughout the country and everyone stops to pay tribute. Whether on the street walking or in a car, taxi, or bus, or shopping in a store, or preparing a meal at home, most Israelis make the effort to stop what they are doing for the two minutes at each siren to acknowledge the solemnity of the day.

The first siren, at 8 pm, marks the beginning of the formal ceremonies at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. This ceremony is the official State Memorial and is attended by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, the Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, and the President. Tomorrow, on Yom HaZikaron Day, there is another siren at 11 am, which marks the beginning of private ceremonies among families at cemeteries and schools. Practically every Israeli citizen is related to or knows someone who died defending the Country from enemies that want to destroy it - whether through wars (occuring in the years1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982) or terrorism and the maelstrom of continued intifada. The entire Country shuts down to show their respect for these precious lives.

One final ceremony in the evening of Yom HaZikaron is held at Mount Herzl National Cemetery, followed at sundown by the beginning of the joyous holiday of Israeli Independence, Yom Haatzmaut.

How To Celebrate Yom Haatzmaut in Israel

Israel typically celebrates its independence day on the 5th of the Jewish month of Iyar, the day in the Hebrew calendar when David Ben Gurion announced the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Although this year it is celebrated on May 5, 2022 (Iyar 4), a Thursday, so that the celebrations won’t interfere with bringing in Shabbat on Friday, the 5th of Iyar.

When you see the celebrations, you will understand why. The preparations begin weeks before, when Israeli flags are hung from every lamppost and stanchion, and kids stand at every intersection selling specially designed flags to attach to cars. You hear the zing of loud airplane spitfire engines as the Israel Airforce practices for their “fly by show” at midday on Yom Haatzmaut.

Every aspect of the formal evening ceremony at Mount Herzl is symbolic. There are speeches by important dignitaries followed by the lighting of 12 torches corresponding to the 12 Tribes of Israel by 12 citizens singled out for their contributions to the State. Topping off the evening are fantastic fireworks displays, not only in Jerusalem but throughout the country. This year, however, due to concerns with PTSD, the fireworks displays are, evidently, being toned down.

Again, by State law, businesses are closed on Yom Haatzmaut, and the day is spent with family and friends, picnicking and barbecuing in parks, beaches, and backyards. There are parades and most museums offer free admission. The Israeli Air Force air show and fly-over passes over most of the country, featuring acrobatic stunts and lasting about 45 minutes.

Another featured event is the annual International Bible Competition, attracting young competitors from all over the World to see who knows the Bible best. The day concludes with the awarding of the Israel Prize, Israel’s most prestigious award, to those Israeli citizens who have displayed excellence in their field or contributed significantly to Israeli culture.

Whether you are in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, or Eilat, there are celebrations and parties to commemorate the creation of the State of Israel. Join the millions of Israelis who take their heritage seriously by showing their love not only for those who sacrificed for their freedom, but also for those who appreciate what that freedom means to every Jew living in Israel today.

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