Yom HaZikaron History & Customs
Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), the national day of public mourning, memorializes those who gave their lives in defense of the State of Israel. The Israeli Knesset established the day before Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) as a day to remember and honor soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and in other subsequent battled. It is a solemn day during which all places of entertainment are closed and two-minute sirens are sounded throughout all of Israel, one in the evening to mark the beginning of the holiday and one in the morning, prior to the nation’s public memorial ceremony.
Yom HaZikaron begins with an official ceremony at the Western Wall, as the flag of Israel is lowered to half staff. Places of entertainment are closed for the day by law. Radio and television stations play programs about Israel's wars and show programming that conveys the somber mood of the day.
As on Yom HaShoah, an air raid siren is played twice during Yom HaZikaron. During the sirens’ soundings, the entire country comes to a complete stop: bulldozers are turned off, cranes hang empty in the air, and cars get parked on the sides of streets as their occupants stand silently alongside their vehicles. The first siren marks the beginning of Memorial Day and the second is sounded immediately prior to the public recitation of prayers in military cemeteries.
Numerous public ceremonies are held throughout Israel. There is a national ceremony at the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl, where many of Israel's leaders and soldiers are buried. Many schools and public buildings have memorials for those from their community who died in Israel's wars.
The day officially draws to a close in the evening at the official ceremony of Israel Independence Day on Mount Herzl, when the flag of Israel is returned to full staff. Scheduling Yom HaZikaron right before Yom HaAtzmaut is intended to remind people of the sacrifice soldiers and their families and friends have paid for Israel's independence and security. This transition shows the importance of this day among Israelis, most of whom have served in the armed forces or have a connection with people who were killed during military service.
To observe Yom HaZikaron:
- Host a ceremony at your synagogue or school commemorating the day, where you can read out names of fallen soldiers that can be found in the official Israeli database (you can ask a rabbi or a teacher to help with the translation).
- Wear the special "Yizkor" sticker worn by Israelis during the day.
- Stand at attention for two minutes alongside Israelis at 8pm Israeli time on the holiday.