Commemoration of Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and terrorism victims, began at 8:00 Sunday evening with a country-wide siren and minute of silence.
The opening ceremony took place at the Western Wall, with the participation of Chief Rabbis Amar and Metzger.
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A second siren will be sounded Monday morning, at 11 AM, once again bringing all activity to a standstill and marking the beginning of memorial ceremonies at the 43 military cemeteries around the country. A Knesset Member or government official will speak at each ceremony.
A special ceremony will also be held in memory of Jews murdered by terrorists and anti-Semites around the world. Some 200 such Jews will be remembered at Monday's ceremony at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. The event is being organized by the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish National Fund, and the UJC of North America. A monument with the names of the victims will be unveiled.
The names of all Israel's fallen soldiers and terrorist victims will be broadcast on Israel's public television channel Sunday evening and Monday, one after the other, for 4-5 seconds each.
The somber day comes to an end Monday with the onset of Israel's 59th Independence Day.
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.
The number of soldiers and security personnel who have fallen since November 29, 1947, when the United Nations accepted the partition thus mandating the creation of a Jewish State, is 20,526. The struggle to re-create a Jewish homeland, beginning in the year 1860, when Jews began to move outside Jerusalem's Old City walls, claimed an additional close to 1,500 victims.
The 1948 War of Independence was Israel's costliest war, with more than 6,000 dead, one percent 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, and was fought for about a year, until 1949.
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 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 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 1,287 have been felled by Palestinian Authority terrorists and gunmen since September 2000.
Memorial Day Messages
In the year 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak wrote to the bereaved families,
"We visit today the rows of graves that extend to infinity... we still refuse to believe and we refuse to be consoled. Because there is no consolation. Heavy, maybe too heavy, is the price we bear for our independence and building the 52 years of the State of Israel."
The late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the first Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces and the man who was responsible for setting the date of Memorial Day, explained the day's significance differently:
"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 be a day of mourning, majesty, and vision."
Interestingly, Barak himself took a similar tone when he spoke at the Mt. Herzl ceremony in 2000, saying,
"...their deaths are the precious price of freedom and our re-establishment. It is my hope that a strong and secure State of Israel will be, with the help of G-d, the consolation of the bereaved families."
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. In this way, we thought that we could 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. 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 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 remembering 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."