April here in Israel was a month of mixed emotions, a mixture of joy and sorrow. There were two major commemorations: Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 19) and Memorial Day (April 25); and two major joyous celebrations: Pesach, or Passover (April 8-14), and Independence Day (April 26).
Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, when those who were victims of the Nazi genocide during World War II are remembered, takes place annually on the 27th of the Jewish month of Nisan, six days after the seventh and last day of Passover, and eight days before Israel’s Independence Day. Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, like all other days of the Jewish year, begins in the evening. (“And there was evening, and there was morning….” [Gen 1:5].) Early in the evening all places of entertainment are closed. At 7:00 p.m. the day’s central ceremony is held at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Attending are the President, Prime Minister and other state secular and religious dignitaries. At 10:00 the next morning all the country’s sirens go off and for two solid minutes, everyone, no matter where they are or what they are doing, stands at attention to honor those who perished. This year, for instance, as Gizmo, our three-legged terrier, began wailing in concert with the sirens, I ran outside to grab him. As we stood at attention on our patio, a pickup truck loaded with building supplies suddenly pulled over to the side of the street. The driver and passenger quickly got out and stood quietly beside their truck until the sirens finally ceased their wailing.
Memorial Day is held on the 4th of Iyar, the day before Israel’s Independence Day. It is a day set aside to remember Israel’s fallen soldiers and their bereaved families. This commemoration begins in the evening with programs in every town and village honoring local residents who gave their lives defending the country. By law, all places of entertainment are closed on the eve of Memorial Day. Throughout the following day memorial services are conducted at military cemeteries. At 11:00 a.m. the sirens sound and two minutes of silence are observed. This Memorial Day I had to work, but David, our son Natan and his fiancée Liat attended a memorial service for our neighbors’ eldest child, Dror, who was killed in South Lebanon five years ago, less than a month before completing his three years of compulsory army duty. As darkness fell sirens sounded again to mark the end of the day and the opening of Independence Day celebrations.
Independence Day is celebrated each year on the 5th of Iyar, the anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence in the year 5708 (1948); however, when the day falls on a Friday or Sabbath, as it did this year, it is celebrated on the preceding Thursday. The day’s festivities begin on the eve of the holiday with a ceremony at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. In every Israeli city, town and settlement there are programs celebrating Israel’s statehood, dancing in the streets and beautiful displays of fireworks. Standing on our roof on this Independence Day, David and I were able to enjoy fireworks ascending from three different settlements in the Judean Hills that surround us. During the next day many Israelis visited military museums and the tanks, planes and other military equipment on display at army, navy and air force bases; and almost no one missed the opportunity to spend the day picnicking in park and forest. Eventually, the enticing aroma of barbecued meat filled the parks, forests and even the country’s city streets, providing a fitting conclusion to the holiday.
The above are only the major commemorations and holidays; there are other celebrations and memorials in Israel each April, many of these peculiar to one of Israel’s ethnic communities. I had the opportunity on April 24 to take part in the ceremonies commemorating the genocide suffered by Armenians in 1915 in Ottoman Turkey. Interestingly, the Armenian people remember their holocaust very close to the time that the Jewish people remember theirs.