Hadas Ragolsky, an executive producer at Channel 2 news, spends Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron) where many of her fellow Israelis do: at the cemetery.
Ragolsky, who oversees the station’s 5 o’clock news program “First Edition,” struggles like the rest of the nation on its annual day of remembrance. She lost an uncle in the Yom Kippur War, and years later, her brother’s partner was killed by a missile from Gaza. So when the first siren sounds Sunday evening and Channel 2, like all TV stations in Israel, shifts into 24 hours of programming devoted to those lost in terror in war, she will not be at work.
Instead, having spent several weeks preparing for Channel 2’s annual Memorial Day coverage, she will take the day off and join her family for a somber pilgrimage to visit her loved ones’ graves.
In addition to broadcasting the national ceremonies that mark this most solemn of days in Israel, the television networks – Channel 2 among them – commit to nearly round-the-clock coverage of stories of loss.
There are home videos shown of those who have died, interviews with sisters and wives and brothers and fathers, and personal stories of lives ripped apart in a single second. It’s heavy stuff, but in this country, Ragolsky says, it makes perfect sense.
“Mainstream TV in Israel is really patriotic, so it’s not hard on us to change the tone or focus on Yom Hazikaron,” she says. “And you don’t have the things that happen on a regular day, like court or Knesset or even crime. You don’t have sports events to cover, because there are none. The entire country is just gathering inward.”
In a nation where nearly everyone is touched by loss, there are countless stories to focus on. So when it comes to choosing which stories to cover on air, Ragolsky says, she goes by the same news know-how she brings to every program.
Planning for Memorial Day coverage generally takes about two months, and when Ragolsky sits down with her staff, they focus on collecting a range of personal stories from all corners of Israeli grief.
They start by finding a story of one person who lost his or her life in the past year. Then they move on to finding a compelling story of someone who died in a terror attack or working as a policeman or fireman, since Memorial Day honors those losses as well as battlefield deaths. Diversity of stories is important, she says, so that means making sure the pool of stories includes both men and women, young and old, mothers and fathers as well as brothers and sisters.
“I try to give a voice to each group,” she says. “Israel has so many stories to tell.”
There is also a lot of sensitivity that comes into the selection. Ragolsky makes sure that her researchers don’t reach out to bereaved family members to suggest interviews or ask for home videos until they are sure they would like to put them on air.
“You try to not to speak with the families before you are sure you are going forward with their stories,” she says. “You first do research, and then you contact a third or second circle to make sure the person knows how to speak well enough … and that they can cope. We don’t want anyone to feel that we asked them to show their feelings and then we didn’t broadcast it. It’s delicate.”
And what if major news were to break while the station was showing its devoted Memorial Day coverage?
There’s no question, Ragolsky says – they would shift back into reporting mode.
“If something tremendous were to happen, like a war, we would drop everything and cover it,” she says. “But with other stories, we are willing to deal with them a day or two later, or not cover it. It’s ok. But if something huge happens, then we would decide what to do. That’s our job as producers.”