Lahav Cohen (4) hugs the grave of his father Sergeant Michael Cohen, a combat unit commander. May 2012.

One week after marking its national Holocaust Memorial Day, Israel observes Yom Hazikaron, the national remembrance day. It serves as a memorial for all Israeli military personnel who lost their lives in the struggle that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and for those who have been killed subsequently, while on active duty in Israel’s armed forces. It also mourns all the casualties of terror attacks.

All over the country, sirens wailed for a full minute not long after sunset at 8 pm Tuesday night, given that in the Hebrew calendar system, each day begins at sunset. Another siren sounded for a further two minutes at 11 am on Wednesday morning. Immediately after the night siren, ceremonies were held and traditional sad songs were sung.

During each siren, Israelis stop everything, like driving on highways, and stand in silence to commemorate the fallen and show respect.

 

By law, all places of entertainment are closed on the eve of Yom Hazikaron and broadcasting and educational bodies note the solemnity of the day. Regular radio and television programming is interrupted, with solemn songs and documentaries broadcast in their place, and the names and ranks of every deceased soldier are displayed in a 24-hour television broadcast.

Memorial candles are lit in homes, army camps, schools, synagogues and public places. Flags are lowered to half-staff. Throughout the day serving and retired military personnel serve as honor guards at war memorials throughout the country, and the families of the fallen participate in memorial ceremonies at military cemeteries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose brother Yoni was the sole casualty in a daring, successful hostage rescue mission in Entebbe in 1976, posted this message on Twitter:

Many opened their homes to host people sharing stories of loved ones who died, and the Lone Soldier Center held a special ceremony for lone soldiers – mostly people who came from abroad to serve in the IDF – who fell during their military service.

This short, heart-wrenching poem by Tzur Erlich explains the significance of Israelis having two Memorial days one week apart; one to remember 6 million and one to remember 23,646.