The State of Israel’s independence, as well as its continued survival, is a modern day miracle. But, it has come at great cost in human lives to its citizens. Therefore, before Israel celebrates Yom Ha’atzma’ut, its Independence Day, Israel honors the memory of those who gave their lives for their country. On the 4th of Iyar, Yom Ha’zikaron, Memorial Day is observed.

Memorial Day in Israel is not a day of picnics, fairs and fireworks. Throughout the country, family members visit their fallen loved ones in cemeteries, memorial candles are lit and psalms are recited in their memory. National memorials are held in the presence of top Israeli leadership and military personnel with Yizkor and Keyl Maleh Rachamim prayers recited and the name and rank of every fallen soldier are noted publicly on television in place of regular programming.

In one of the more public displays of mourning to honor the fallen soldiers, sirens are sounded simultaneously throughout the entire country, with a one minute siren in the evening, and a two minute siren the following morning. As the alarm pierces the air, all traffic comes to a halt and everyone stands for a moment of silence in honor of those who have fallen.

What is the purpose of silence? Speech is one of humankind’s most powerful tools and is one of the traits that humanity “shares” with God. It was with the power of speech that God created the world. (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”) People use their power of speech to connect with each other. Observing a minute of silence forces us to disconnect from those around us and to reflect on both the void created by these great losses, and the miracle of our own survival.

While Yom Hazikaron is normally commemorated on the 4th of Iyar, this year, because the 5th of Iyar, Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel Independence Day occurs on Friday, in order to avoid the desecration of Shabbat, Yom Ha’atzma’ut is moved up to this Wednesday night and Thursday, and, in turn, Yom Hazikaron is moved up to the day before, and is commemorated tonight and tomorrow.

This Treat was originally posted April 27, 2009.

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