A Separation Worth Considering

Proposal of bereaved families asks that Memorial Day fall one day earlier, with one ordinary day before Independence Day; Separating the days would make it possible to mark each national event with attention they deserves

A group of bereaved families is proposing that Memorial Day be separated from Independence Day on Israel's calendar of events. As Nir Hasson reported in Monday's Haaretz, the idea's sponsors wish to ease some of the dislocation and pain felt by families who have lost their loved ones and have trouble dealing with the abrupt switch from memorial services at military cemeteries and monuments to parties in the streets, public entertainments and the firework displays of Independence Day.

The proposal was discussed two and a half months ago by the Public Council for the Commemoration of Soldiers and met with strong opposition, but the discussion has not ended. The idea is worthy of thorough examination and wide public debate. Even national traditions that were instituted many years ago deserve renewed scrutiny now and again and can be adjusted to circumstances and the spirit of the times.

Separating Memorial Day from Independence Day would make it possible to mark each of these national events with the attention it deserves. It would also make it easier for bereaved families to participate in Independence Day events, by giving them a chance to recover from the ceremonies and events commemorating fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

Moreover, Independence Day would then be celebrated in a more civilian atmosphere: It would emphasize the state's achievements and be a day of hope instead of focusing on the memory of wars and terror attacks and reflecting the atmosphere of struggle, conflict and state of emergency in which Israel has found itself for decades.

Yet the arguments against the change are also very weighty. Linking Memorial Day to Independence Day was intended to remind Israelis about "the silver platter," as poet Natan Alterman termed it - the price paid by the Israel Defense Forces fighters who gave their lives to establish the state and preserve its security. Separating the two might be viewed as an insult to their memory and an attempt to repress and whitewash the loss. There is also symbolic value in sticking with a tradition that began in the state's early days and that links generations of Israelis.

The proposal's sponsors have offered a balanced formula under which Memorial Day would fall one day earlier, so that there would be one ordinary day between it and Independence Day. In this fashion, the connection between the fallen and the celebration of independence would be maintained, but the passage from one to the other would be less abrupt.

The Public Council for the Commemoration of Soldiers should reconsider separating Memorial Day from Independence Day. And this time, it should allow the general public input into its debates and considerations.