In Israel, Holocaust Remembrance Day begins quietly every year, on the eve of the Jewish calendar day of 27th of Nisan, a date which usually falls sometime in late April or early May. On Monday morning at 10 A.M., as schools and many places of work gathered at special assemblies, a two-minute siren wailed across the country – bringing Israel to a literal halt. Cars stopped on the highways, pedestrians froze in place, and everyone – men, women, children, young, old, male, female, Arab and Jew – were expected to take two minutes of time out for some silent solemn reflection.
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The siren is part of the country's annual day of commemoration – a collective, government-prescribed period of time to pause, think about, and give respect to the approximately six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust – as well as to the Jewish resistance fighters who attempted, against all odds, to fight back and survive.
This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day was ushered in at sundown on Sunday. Coffee shops, restaurants, theaters and stores, by law, shut as darkness began to fall. Gyms closed, playgrounds emptied out, meetings wrapped up, lights were turned off in office buildings, and TV and radio stations all switched over to special Holocaust programming.
In Jerusalem, at the annual state ceremony – which takes place at the Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes Authority – the national flag was lowered to half-mast. Six Holocaust survivors then lit six torches, and the chief rabbis recited prayers.