Gets Me Every Time – Holocast Memorial Day

May 1, 2008

Let me preface this post by saying that I have been here for almost 7 years this time around, and I lived in Israel for 6 years as a kid. Even though I’m used to it, and even though it’s nothing new, and even though I always know it’s coming, it never fails to get me every time.

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel, a day commemorating the 6 million Jews (and 6 million others, such as gays, mentally ill, Gypsies, etc.) who were ruthlessly exterminated by the Nazis in WW2.

On the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day (last night), all businesses in the country are closed. EVERYTHING. No restaurants, no movie theaters, nothing. And I think it’s great. Sure, I would’ve liked to have my ballet class last night, but the fact the entire country shuts down in memory of those who were murdered to me is amazing.

During the day itself, which is today, businesses are open. But most places of work don’t play any music (i.e. malls and restaurants) and the radio only has very somber music. At 10 am, the most incredible thing happens.

A 2-minute country-wide siren goes off, and people stop whatever they’re doing for 2 minutes and stand up in memory of those who perished. When I say stop – I mean stop. Everything.

Every year, no matter what, I am always caught driving during these two minutes. It doesn’t matter when I leave the house, how I calculate the time I need to get to work, it never fails. And every year, no matter what, I am amazed by the unity of this country.

At 9:58 this morning, I was listening to the radio, and the DJ mentioned that in 2 minutes a siren would go off (as a reminder). Somewhere between 9:58 and 10, I was able to forget this was going to happen. As I was driving on the freeway, I suddenly saw literally dozens of cars lined up on the sides of the road, and quickly reminded myself to do the same. I parked 2 seconds before the siren went off.

I got out of the car and saw how other cars, that didn’t have the time to pull over, stopped dead in their tracks in the middle of the freeway. I mean, a 4 lane freeway with people in ALL lanes stopping and getting out of the car.

It’s very powerful, and it doesn’t matter how many times you see it.

You can watch a video from last year here, and you can also see some of today’s “action” on Ynet.

Next Wednesday is Memorial Day. A 1 minute siren will sound on Tuesday evening, and another 1 minute siren will sound on Wednesday morning. Without a doubt, I will be caught on the freeway both times. And without a doubt, it will get to me again.

I love this country.


  1. This is only my second year here, and both last year and this year I got caught off guard, knowing vaguely that there would be a siren but being unaware of the current time or exactly when the siren would be going off. That makes it even more jarring. And then, as you say, to see all that traffic just stopped, people standing outside their cars. People on the sidewalks just frozen on the spot wherever they are.

    On top of that, everything turns silent except for the sound of the siren. That sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but it’s true. You hear the siren, but you also notice the lack of other noise. No traffic. No radios. No people talking on their cell phones.

    This morning I was standing on Ben Gurion Street at the border between Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan. The BSR towers on opposite corners at the intersection with Abba Hillel are bedecked with strings of Israeli flags that go from ground level up to the top of the buildings stood silently with the traffic and the people. The wind blew the flags, and the siren blast was a modern version of the last, long shofar blast on Rosh HaShannah or at the end of Yom Kippur.

    How can it not get you?

  2. The siren is really powerful. Words do not do it justice.

  3. Yes, and after 20 years, it is still a moving site. I have had to explain time and again to guests (Non-Jews) visiting in Israel, the moment and its’ meaning. It is a unique and moving tribute. SOmething that we can call definitely Israeli.

    Next week is also a very moving moment. Those of us that were raised in the US are accustomed to some sort of Independence Day celebration. Here it IS different. Memorial Day is not an excuse for a Monday off and a long weekend. Unfortunately Americans have almost forgotten the meaning of the day.
    Here, we pay tribute and honor the memories of those who have fought – and died – in order for this SMALL piece that we can call home to even exist. Therefore it is MOST fitting that before we can allow ourselves to celebrate, to dance in the streets (we used to at least), to bop those silly hammers, and to light a mangal, we must first stop and remember those who made it possible.

  4. I totally know what you mean, Ben. I’m planning on blogging about it too. Memorial Day in Israel is, in a way, even more powerful because of Independence Day the follows the nexy day.

    The whole experience can’t be explained – it needs to be experienced first-hand.

  5. […] A Different Kind of Memorial Day May 6, 2008 I knew it was going to happen. I predicted it last week. Just like on Holocaust Memorial Day, regardless of when I leave work or home, I am […]

  6. Holocaust Museum Pavel Goberman
    P.O. Box 1664
    Beaverton, OR USA 97075
    (503) 643-8348


    I’m originally from former USSR and lived in Israel for over one year and live in the USA 28 years. I recommended my sister and my daughter and her family to move to Israel and they are living there for 9 years. And I was going to return to Israel, but Israeli Minister Sheetrit denied me citizenship by refusing to renew and issue me new Israeli Passport, but issued me Travel Document only. What an Morocco’s moron.
    I’m 71 now. My father died on WWII in end of 1941 and mother died in 1943 looks like from not enough food to eat: she eat something not good, get sick stomach and died. I and my sister grew up in orphanage.
    The State of Israel exist because of families as mine, but this Morocco’s idiot is in charge of Israel now. Where is the government of Israel?

    USA is sending many billions dollars to countries where people are saying: “Death Israel and America”, but the money continue to flow to terrorists.
    But when I ran for US Senator, US Senator Schumer, NY, Chair DNC, blocked my election: appointed other man to run, and gave order to the Jewish Federation (JF) of Portland, OR and JCC do not invite me on Debate of Candidates Running for US Senate. It was a brutal rape of the Constitution of the USA: USC T 47, Section 315. And when I started give to Jews my flyers, the JCC of Portland, OR didn’t allow me be on their property and gave an Order do not allow me to entry their property. JF and JCC are Jewish Fascists in Oregon.
    On behalf of my died parents and 6 million Jews, died during WWII, I started hate and cursed the JF and JCC of Portland, and wish some one blow up these dirty nests. Something not good will happen with them. “Cursed is the man, or country which denied justice to the orphan”, Jewish Proverb.
    So many Jews are playing Jews only.

    Pavel Goberman

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