By Tslil Reichman
Yom in Hebrew means day—just a regular, random day. But when you add a powerful word after it, it can change from just a day to something more meaningful: Yom Ha’Zikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut.
Due to different events that have occurred throughout my life, these days, the “Yoms,” have become the most important days of the year. And maybe it’s only “a day,” but they are special days, each one more powerful than the other.
The state of Israel set a special day, a day to remember and mourn the loss of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to guard Israel. The next day, is Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. It is not by chance that these days are connected; their connection symbolizes the struggle and triumph of the state of Israel.
More than 23,000 soldiers have fallen in defense of the country, and more than 2,500 have died in terror attacks. Yom Ha’Zikaron is an intensely personal day for Israel. Everyone, it seems, knows someone who has died in battle, and nearly one in five citizens is expected to visit a military cemetery to mark the day.
On the eve of Yom Ha’Zikaron, a siren is sounded at 8:00pm. If you’ve been to Israel on Yom Ha’Zikaron, you will notice how the whole country stops at that moment. Even cars will stop on the highway and the passengers will step out the car to stand and honor those who have lost their lives. Once the siren is sounded, TV broadcasts will stop, restaurants and shops will close, and radio stations will only play songs about fallen soldiers. An official ceremony will take place in Jerusalem that night, while the next day, families and schools hold ceremonies all over Israel in memory of their loved ones.
Twenty-four hours later, a ceremony marking the beginning of Israel’s Independence Day starts in Jerusalem. During the ceremony, 12 individuals (symbolizing the 12 tribes) are honored for their contribution to Israel. Each city has its own festival and music concerts into the night. The next day celebrations continue, BBQs and fairs take place across the country in honor of Yom Ha’Atzmaut.
For years, these days were never that meaningful to me. I knew I had to stand still during the siren and be serious and respectful, and the next night I’d easily join the joyful celebration.
But as I reached the age of 18 and throughout my few years in the IDF, the names were not of “strangers” anymore. The names became a little more real, more known and familiar to me. Someone’s friend or cousin. Then on July 31, 2014, during operation ‘Protective Edge,’ Yom Ha’Zikaron received a whole different meaning for me. My friend and classmate Omri fell along the border of the Gaza strip after being hit by mortar fire. Omri was full of energy and charm, obsessed with hiking and knew every trail from north to south in Israel.
There is a very popular and well known Israeli poem turned song called ‘Every Person Has a Name.’ I remember reading somewhere during that horrible summer “every person has a name that they don’t want to see reported as a fallen soldier on the news.” This day marked a true turning point in my life.
Israel Independence Day and Memorial Day are just a day apart from each other, and for the past three years I’ve asked myself the question: Why? How can someone transition from mourning, to great happiness in less than 24 hours?
Though I don’t need a specific day to remember Omri, (I think about him every day.), on the first Yom Ha’Zikaron after Omri’s death, my emotions were exceptionally high. I was angry when the day was over and the whole country just started celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut. I had refused to go out and celebrate, disagreeing with the notion that to have independence we have to pay a price.
This year, I’m still not sure how I feel about the connection between Yom Ha’Zikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Since coming to Rhode Island, my anger has certainly subsided. Omri has become a big part of my shlichut (my task as an emissary). I talk about the places he enjoyed and share his love and dedication to Israel.
Missing home so much has led me to renew my appreciation of the amazing things Israel, as an independent state, has achieved and been through. And while it is not easy for me, I have come to realize that despite all difficulties, Israel and its independence is not something I can take for granted. I should go out and celebrate…Omri would want me to.
TSLIL REICHMAN is the community shlichah (emissary) for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.