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The Memorial Day-Independence Day Link

Rabbi Goren, who set the date of Memorial Day: "We view warriors who fall in battle as those who sprout forth life." 1,351 killed in last decade.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 4/19/2010, 12:16 PM / Last Update: 4/19/2010, 11:59 AM

Memorial Day for Israel's Fallen and Victims of Terrorism will end, as do other Jewish holidays, at nightfall, and the somber nature of the day will give way to the gaiety and festivities of Israel’s 62nd Independence Day.

The transition between the days was explained by the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the first Chief Rabbi of the IDF and the man who set the date of Memorial Day. He said, "We view the warriors who fall in battle as those who sprout forth life. The life of a nation grew out of this blood... This day must be more than mourning: We must remember, we must grieve, but it must [also] be a day of majesty and vision."


Rabbi Goren explained, in a 1974 speech, how he came to set Memorial Day just before Independence Day:

"The merit of doing this fell in my lot.. We first thought of setting Memorial Day on Lag BaOmer, the day that historically symbolizes the Bar Kokhba war, and that which is still celebrated by Jewish children as the day of Jewish strength. We thought we could thus combine the heroism of our early ancestors with that of our own children in this generation. But doubts crept in: Would we not cause harm to the general significance, shrouded in mystery as it is, of that historic day?

"One of the Fast Days, or during the Three Weeks in which we remember the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temples, was then proposed [for Memorial Day]. But we could not accept the fact that the Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers would be solely a day of mourning. It was felt that this day must be more than that. We must remember, we must grieve, but not only that - it must [also] be a day of... majesty and vision.

"We realized, therefore, that we could not assign this day to any existing holiday. But the first Independence Day was rapidly approaching [and we had not yet set a date to memorialize our fallen], and so we did what we did - without announcing it formally and without setting any specific format for the day. I went to Voice of Israel studios on the day before Independence Day, and read aloud the Chief of Staff’s Daily Military Order [including an announcement of memorial for the fallen soldiers], which he wrote according to my request. And so I became the narrator and the one who set Memorial Day on what became its date." 

Both Memorial Day and Independence Day are commemorated one day later than usual this year, by order of the Chief Rabbinate, in order to prevent the Sabbath desecration that would have resulted from having Memorial Day begin on Saturday night.

History of the Fallen
The 1948-49 War of Independence was Israel's costliest war, with more than 6,000 dead - 1% of the Jewish population at the time - and 15,000 wounded. The war consisted of 39 separate operations, fought from the borders of Lebanon to the Sinai Peninsula and Eilat.

Then followed seven years of relative quiet - during which there were "1,339 cases of armed clashes with Egyptian armed forces, 435 cases of incursion from Egyptian-controlled territory, and 172 cases of sabotage perpetrated by Egyptian military units and fedayeen [terrorists] in Israel," in which 101 Israelis were killed, as Israeli Ambassador to the UN Abba Eban explained to the Security Council on October 30, 1956. Eban gave these statistics the day after Israel began the Sinai Campaign - its military response to Egypt's violation of international agreements by sealing off the Israeli port of Eilat, effectively stopping Israel's sea trade with much of Africa and the Far East.

A total of 231 Israeli soldiers died in the Sinai Campaign fighting. In March 1957, after receiving international guarantees that Israel's vital waterways would remain open, Israel withdrew from the Sinai and Gaza - yet the Egyptians still refused to open the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping.

The Six-Day War broke out on June 5, 1967. Along with the stunning victories, over 770 Israelis were killed.

Then began the period of the War of Attrition, which claimed 424 soldiers and more than 100 civilians. A ceasefire was declared on August 8, 1970.

Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, 1973. The IDF ultimately emerged victorious, but a total of 2,688 soldiers were killed in the Yom Kippur War.

In June 1982, in response to continued terrorist attacks and Katyusha shellings from across the Lebanese border, as well as an assassination attempt upon Israel's late Ambassador to Great Britain Shlomo Argov, Israel attacked the terrorists in Lebanon in what was known as Operation Peace for Galilee. Close to 460 soldiers were killed between June and December 1982, and another 760 in daily ambushes against Israeli forces over the next two and a half years.

Between December 1987, when the first Arab "intifada" broke out, and the signing of the Oslo Accords in late 1993, 90 Israelis were murdered. Between the Oslo signing and the beginning of what became known as the Oslo War in September, 2000, 251 Israelis were murdered by terrorists.

Another 1,351 people have been felled by Palestinian Authority terrorists and gunmen in Israel since September 2000.