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 always on the freeway when the siren goes off.

Some background for those of you who don’t know about Israel’s memorial day. It couldn’t be more different than the American memorial day. While in the US, Memorial Day is actually a weekend for sales and movie premieres, in Israel Memorial Day is a very somber day.

Israel’s memorial day commemorates not only those soldiers who were killed in action while defending the State of Israel, but all of those who died in acts of terror. Jewish holidays are lunar, meaning they are sundown to sundown, and all start the evening before (like Christmas Eve).

At 8 pm, a 1-minute country-wide siren goes off to commemorate those who died, and at 11 am the following morning a 2-minute siren is heard. Regardless of where you are, everyone stops and stands up for the entire minute. Complete and utter silence ensues. All activities cease. In the case of those driving, like you can read on last week’s post, cars stop on the side of the road in preparation. And yes, many cars are still driving when the siren goes off. So they stop dead in their tracks, in the middle of a 5-lane freeway. And it’s an amazing site.

I won’t bore you with a repetition of last week’s sentiments of awe, though they apply completely here as well. If you haven’t yet, I urge you to read that post. Just like last week’s siren, I was once again in my car when the siren went off, but this time I had made it as far as my town’s main road, and this time got to see a different angle that I hadn’t seen since childhood.

Instead of a bunch of business people on their way to or from work, this time I saw families. Every last child stood in silence. All of those who were even remotely old enough to understand – even 3 year olds. And it’s still amazing. It just doesn’t get old.

Israeli Memorial Day is a set date on the Jewish calendar every year. It is purposefully placed as the day before Israel’s Independence day, which begins tomorrow at sundown. The reasoning behind this was very important.

While Independence Day is an enormous cause for celebration, and this year’s in particular, we cannot forget those who died to get us here. It also works the other way around. While Memorial Day is an extremely sad and somber day, at the end of the day come Independence Day festivities to show that the enormous price paid wasn’t for naught. This is of extreme significance for Israelis, most of whom have served in the army and lost family members or friends to wars or acts of terrorism. Very few Israelis haven’t been touched by either.

Here is a video from a couple of years ago, showing the Ayalon freeway during the siren. Note that many drivers stop their cars ahead of time, and others once the siren begins. You can see more videos in last week’s post about Holocaust Memorial Day.

So, yes, again I was outside when the siren went off, and again, it got to me. I’m beginning to think that, subconsciously, I “make sure” that I’m outside when the siren goes off because the unity of standing outside with strangers is so much more powerful than standing up in your living room alone.


  1. Thanks for writing this. I’ve marched in many Memorial Day parades in Port Chester, NY, and the ceremony which precedes it always seems to bore almost everyone in attendance. When I was in Israel for Yom Hazikarom/Yom Haatzmaut, I saw what it means to remember those who died.

    Is there a reason why US Memorial day is the last Monday in May? I say we move it to July 3rd.

  2. […] was Israel’s Memorial Day, and it was immediately followed by Israel’s 60th Independence Day. On Wednesday night, the […]

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