Today marks Yom HaZikaron, or Israeli Memorial Day (literally, Day of Remembrance). The holiday, like its American equivalent, honors those who died in combat. But this holiday is different from the American one in almost every way. In America, Memorial Day has very little actual significance. For most people, it means a three-day weekend, a barbecue/picnic, and car sales. In Israel, on the other hand, the exact opposite takes place. Like Yom HaShoah, a siren is played for a minute throughout the country, ceasing all activity, including car traffic on highways. Most shops and stores are closed, and normal television and radio programming is replaced with documentaries and solemn music.
But why is this the case in Israel, and not the U.S.? Even if we assume that the U.S. is too large to handle a one-minute shutdown, why can’t we still treat Memorial Day with just an ounce of respect? Is it because America’s much more diversified than Israel? Perhaps, but I think it’s more a result on an overall less-patriotic American culture. Really, after Vietnam, the Democrats gave up patriotism and left it to the conservatives to claim as their own. This, with a combination of post-WWII consumerism, resulted in a distanced, uncaring American people in terms of remembering war heroes.Â And this isn’t just a Western issue. Look at the British, for example. The English are very attached to the soldiers who died in World Wars I and II. This is because Britain, unlike the United States, fought all the way through both world wars, and lost many lives to the harsh conditions of trench warfare and the horrors of the Blitz. In the Imperial War Museum in London, there is a terminal where, similarly to Yad Vashem, you can look up the names of loved ones who died in World Wars I and II. Most British natives can name at least one, and probably many more, persons who died in action, just as Israelis can. The Israelis and British have also had foreign attacks on their soil within the last 65 years. Now compare that to the U.S., in which the last battle on its homeland was 150 years ago, in the Civil War. How can we as Americans feel the pain of lives lost more than a century ago? Well, it may be hard, but at least we can try.
The second part of this post is about tomorrow’s holiday, Yom HaAtzmaut. Yom HaAtzmaut, or Israeli Independence Day, corresponds to American Independence Day, or the 4th of July. Similarly to Memorial Day, the 4th of July doesn’t really have that much actual value at all, though it has more than Memorial Day. The other major difference between Yom HaAtzmaut and the 4th of July is the connection to Memorial Day. Yom HaAtzmaut always comes directly after Yom HaZikaron, while Memorial Day is consciously about a month away from July 4th. In Israel, when the sun falls and Yom HaZikaron ends (Jewish days go from sundown to sundown), the entire country erupts into a huge party for Yom HaAtzmaut. From death to rebirth. And the fact that Yom HaShoah was only last week is no coincidence, either. From the death of the Holocaust and Israeli soldiers comes the birth of a nation. From death to rebirth, to life. Such is the story of the State of Israel.