Over the last week, Israel has remembered the pain and devastation of the Holocaust as well as the re-birth of our nation and all the soldiers and citizens that have given their lives (or had them taken) in order to keep our country and all its citizens alive and free.
Last Thursday, Israelis stopped business as usual and paused to remember relatives, friends, and others who were among the 6 million Jewish people murdered in the Holocaust. Then, this week, Israel again was called to remembrance by the wailing of sirens Tuesday night at 8 p.m., to begin a 24-hour period of honoring the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks since the fight for a new homeland began in the early 1850s. Like Holocaust Remembrance Day, when the sirens sound on Israel Memorial Day, traffic stops, and people stand in silence on the streets, inside homes, and on their balconies.
Since last year, 56 soldiers have died while serving, and another 84 veterans who were injured during their service died from complications. The total number of soldiers who have given their lives for their country since 1860 is now 24,608.
Keep in mind that most of these soldiers who died were teenagers or in their early 20s. In Israel, once you finish high school, the next stop is to serve in the army for two years. It is a right of passage for the majority of our young men and women. All three of my daughters served. And in her day, Elana was a drill sergeant.
We are a tiny nation surrounded by much larger forces that want to destroy us on any given day—so we figured it out a long time ago that in order to survive, everyone needed to pitch in. We don’t have the luxury of leaving it to a handful of volunteers. For us, losing a war means losing our country. It also makes us a nation with generations of trained soldiers at the ready—even though most are now leading ordinary lives as lawyers, baristas, teachers, doctors, moms, dads…you get the picture 😊
On this day, Israel also honors the citizens who have been killed by terrorists. According to the Israel National Insurance Institute, there have been 4,216 people killed in terrorist attacks since the “early days of Zionism” in 1851. Thirty-seven names were added to the list this year (including four people who were seriously injured in a previous attack and succumbed to complications). In just the last couple of months, sixteen people have been murdered in a string of terrorist attacks.
Israel President Isaac Herzog spoke at the opening ceremony for Memorial Day held at the Western Wall. He continued his call for unity among the various political tribes and factions in Israel—calling it a key to Israel’s continued survival and success.
“Our sons and daughters, who fell in defense of our state, fought together and fell together. They did not ask, nor did anyone ask them, who was right-wing and who was left-wing. Who was religious. Who was secular. Who was Jewish and who was not Jewish,” he said.
“They fell as Israelis, defending Israel. In cemeteries, arguments fall silent. Between the headstones, not a sound. A silence that demands that we fulfill, together, their single dying wish: the resurrection of Israel. The building of Israel. United, consolidated, responsible for each other. For we are all sisters and brothers,”
“Even today, our enemies rise up against us with hateful terror, and as always, they find us ready and determined, with one hand holding a weapon and the other extended in dialogue and peace,” Herzog said. “This is our duty to the fallen, our duty to you, and our duty to future generations: to sustain a strong and prosperous Jewish and democratic state, a state built of a dazzling mosaic of communities.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also urged Israelis to stand strong together and not let differences divide. He referenced the diversity of the soldiers he served with as a commander in southern Lebanon in the 1990s.
“We were there in Lebanon, all of us together. Kibbutzniks and city kids, secular and religious, from Beersheba and Haifa, right-wing and left-wing, Jews with non-Jews. There, in the bases of southern Lebanon, I fell in love with our wonderful nation,” Bennett said. “Many friends remain there…They were 19 or 20 years old and didn’t return. I can’t speak in their name, but I believe if they could, they would ask of us: Keep living together. Don’t allow disagreements to tear you apart from within. If we allow anger and hatred to grip us, our enemies will take advantage of this to harm us.”
After a day of mourning and memorials around the country, at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night, Israel had a birthday party to go to! Israel turned 74 this year. And Israelis headed outdoors to celebrate Independence Day festivities around the nation.
In Jerusalem, there was something new for this year’s celebrations—“quiet pyrotechnics.” These are still fireworks with the same cascading lights and dazzling colors, but because there is less flash powder, they don’t sound like rockets, bombs, or gunfire going off—a change made this year to the festivities out of respect to veterans suffering from PTSD. In town squares all around Israel, including Tel Aviv, there were barbeques, horns blaring, and even people spraying “snow.” Of course, we still have the traditional fireworks display in cities all over the country.
“This is what it means to be Israeli,” said one mom in Tel Aviv who brought her two children to the festivities.
On Thursday, there was a military flyover across the nation. For the first time, some of Israel’s drone squad joined the aerial parade. The flyover included fighter jets, cargo planes, a refueling aircraft, Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, and more. The airshow moved up the coastal cities of the Mediterranean and then to some of our interior cities. First, we saw F-35s do a flyby, but the real excitement came from the aerobatic planes. We should have a video up later today from the footage I took.
Jewish communities around the world also celebrated Israel’s Independence Day. In the US, Secretary of State Antony Blinken used the occasion to emphasize again that the ties between the two nations are “unshakeable.”
An important side note—for the first time in history, Israel Memorial Day was observed in an Arab country this year—in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates—by Israeli diplomats stationed there. The UAE was going to participate in the flyover for Independence Day but canceled due to pressures over the recent unrest over the Temple Mount. (Palestinians and some parts of the Arab world call our Independence Day by another name—Nakba Day—“catastrophe” day.)
Tragic update: No sooner had Independence Day ended than two young Palestinian men from Jenin attacked several Israelis with an ax in the city of Elad. The gruesome attack left three fathers dead and created 16 fatherless children. There is a nationwide manhunt underway searching for the attackers.