Memorial Day

April-May Illustration: Masha Manapov

What is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day (in Hebrew, "Yom Hazikaron") is Israel's national day of remembrance for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. It commemorates all those who died as a result of enemy action since 1860, when Jews were first allowed to live in Palestine outside of Jerusalem's Old City walls.

Enacted into law in 1963, Yom Hazikaron is a fairly new addition to the Hebrew calendar, and for the most part is observed only in Israel. While it was initially dedicated to fallen soldiers, commemoration was extended to civilian victims of political violence and terrorism.

In 1950, the cabinet, headed by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, decided that the commemoration ceremonies for those slain in Israel's War of Independence would take place as a part of the Independence Day celebrations. However, the contrast between the general jubilation of the public and the grief of those who had lost their loved ones was too much to bear for the bereaved families. It was thus decided to set the official memorial day on the 4th of Iyar, the day before Independence Day.

When is Memorial Day?

Yom Hazikaron falls on the 4th of Iyar (usually in May), the eve of Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. While the swift transition from solemn mourning to celebration is jarring for some, the juxtaposition is intended to remind Israelis of the price paid for independence and that the sacrifice of the soldiers was not in vain.

When the 5th of Iyar falls on a Friday or Saturday, both Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut are observed one or two days earlier to avoid Sabbath desecration (either on the 3rd and 4th or the 2nd and 3rd of Iyar). Likewise, when Yom Hazikaron falls on Saturday night/Sunday day, both observances are rescheduled to one day later.

Memorial Day 2015 - April 22

Memorial Day 2016 - May 11

Memorial Day 2017 - May 1

Memorial Day 2018 - April 18

Memorial Day 2019 - May 8

How do we observe Memorial Day?

The observance of Yom Hazikaron begins at sunset, with a siren sounding across the country at 8PM. for one minute, during which Israelis drop what they are doing and stand in silence, commemorating the fallen and showing respect. The official ceremony to mark the opening of the day takes place at the Western Wall, and the national flag is lowered to half-mast.

The next morning, a two-minute siren is sounded  at 11AM, marking the opening of the official memorial ceremonies and private gatherings at military cemeteries across the country.  Many Israelis visit the graves of their loved ones throughout the day. Most high schools in Israel hold their own Yom Hazikaron ceremonies with the participation of the families of fallen graduates.

During Yom Hazikaron, cafes and places of entertainment are closed and radio and television programming features sad songs. The names of all fallen are read over the course of the day on special television and radio programs. Memorial Day in Israel is taken very seriously; the vast majority of Israelis have served in the armed forces or have a connection with people who were killed during their military service or in terrorist attacks.

Yom Hazikaron draws to a close at sunset with the official ceremony of Israel's Independence Day at the national military cemetery on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, when the national flag is returned to full staff. This marks the transition to the celebration of Yom Haatzmaut.

Memorial Day Reading