This evening marks Israeli Memorial Day, or Yom HaZikaron. It comes immediately before Israeli Independence Day, Yom HaAtzmaut, more about which tomorrow. The two are essentially two sides of the same holiday, one of solemn remembrance of those who died to make the other possible.
I’ve only been in Israel once for those days, in 1996. Israel under some bombardments from Katyushas in the north. At that time, they couldn’t reach the Golan, so the hiking tour I had scheduled went on more or less as planned. There would be periodic booms, the warm, friendly sound of outgoing artillery, and more sporadic booms with a little “crack” in them, the far less congenial sound of incoming.
At one point, the tour stopped at Castle Nimrod, a medieval fort on the Golan overlooking the whole of the Hula Valley. (Formerly the Hula Swamp.) It was a clear day, and we had a great view of Kiryat Shemona, Hezbollah’s prime target. The residents were quite safe, underground or having fled, and I have to admit, the group spent as much time looking at the city for a rocket impact as looking at the castle. I later confessed this to an Israeli friend of mine, who, realizing that I wasn’t actually firing the missiles, smiled and said something like, “Well, if it was going to hit anyway, you may as well see.”
The afternoon before Yom HaZikaron itself, I took the train down the coast from Haifa to Tel Aviv to stay with an American friend of mine and his girlfriend, now wife. That evening, from their apartment, I heard a concert for the troops at the base in the middle of the city, in particular this song:
It’s the consummate Yom HaZikaron song, written just after the 1973 War, for which Israel bore the responsibility of unpreparedness, not of aggression or provocation, a father promising his daughter that this will be the Last War. Of course, it was untrue in 1996, and is even more untrue now, making it all the more powerful as time passes.
The next day, I took the tourist train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The tradition on Yom HaZikaron is for air raid sirens to sound, and for pretty much all activity to come to a stop. People stop in their tracks on the sidewalks. Cars pull over and the drivers get out and stand. Highway traffic stops. If you’re buying lunch and haven’t gotten your change yet, too bad, you’ll have to wait a minute. In my case, the train stopped, and everyone stood in the aisle.