Israel came to a standstill Sunday evening at 8 p.m. for a minute-long memorial siren during which Israelis stood at attention to commemorate the 23,169 fallen soldiers and 2,495 terror victims who have fallen throughout the history of the State of Israel and the Zionist movement.

The siren was followed by the lighting of a memorial flame to the fallen at the Western Wall, the site of the official state commemoration ceremony.

“It wasn’t a declaration that founded this wonderful country. It was founded upon the blood of its sons and daughters, upon the sweat of the pioneers and the vision of its prophets,” President Shimon Peres said at the Western Wall ceremony. “Israel today is a strong country, a miracle in the eyes of the Jews, a wonder in the eyes of the world. We, the Israelis, are not like any other people. For a generation already the sadness does not release us, even for joy. Our joy is always incomplete. A cloud of sadness envelops us. It is hidden deeply but stares out of our eyes,” the president lamented to an audience of IDF soldiers and families of the fallen.

Peres then sounded an optimistic note for a sad day.

“We still live by the sword but seek peace with all our hearts. The battle is not over, we have not reached our goals…. To our neighbors we offer a true partnership and a new life, where trees bearing fruit will replace arrows inflicting agony. I am sure that we will all live to see those days.”

IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz recalled the sacrifices of Israel’s fallen soldiers, adding that more sacrifice will be needed in the future to defend the country.

“Here, tonight, we promise we will stand alert, prepared to respond to any flare-up, and will perform any mission required to ensure Israel’s security. We cannot promise that all our troops will return safely. We are committed to send them to battle trained, armed with the best equipment, led by the best commanders. But this isn’t enough. The nation’s support is needed as well. Your recognition and appreciation are the most precious ammunition our soldiers carry,” Gantz said.

“We know the relative security calm we’ve experienced in the past years is an illusion,” Gantz added.

Israelis began to mark Memorial Day on Sunday afternoon. Commemoration ceremonies will continue throughout the country until Monday night, when Memorial Day ends abruptly with the start of celebrations marking Independence Day.

The first official event began at 4 p.m. Sunday at Yad LaBanim, or “Memorial for the Sons,” in Jerusalem. The event was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose brother Yoni fell during the IDF’s rescue of Jewish hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, in July 1976. It was also attended by other families of the fallen, Israel’s chief rabbis, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Supreme Court Chief Justice Asher Grunis, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and other top officials.

“On this day, the nation adopts us and unites with us, and with the heroes of the nation,” Netanyahu said, speaking for the families of the fallen. “They came from all parts of the country, from all segments of Israeli society, and the simple and most concise truth is this: We would not be here if not for their sacrifice. We would not be here without their readiness to give their lives so we could be here. This right, this sacrifice, the ability to risk their lives in the face of the horrors of war — all this was not available to us before the founding of Israel.”

“No one has to remind you how to remember. You never forgot,” Edelstein said in a statement Sunday addressed to bereaved families. “Memorial Day is the commandment of the entire nation, a nation that stands and bows its head respectfully and with humility at the [soldiers’] dedication and contribution.”

In a statement, opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) said, “It’s important that tonight and tomorrow, as we gather to remember the IDF fallen, that we remember those heroes who paid with their lives so that Jerusalem will return to be the beating heart of the Jewish nation and the capital of the state.”

“As we gather together in the cemeteries, at the memorials, and at the IDF ceremonies, we remember those who gave this country all they could give. The fallen soldiers and terror victims accompany us in their absence at every step of the way, at every crossroads that life throws at us,” IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said Sunday.

On Monday, a two-minute siren will sound at 11 a.m., with ceremonies beginning shortly afterward at 44 military cemeteries nationwide. At 1 p.m. Monday, a separate commemoration for Israel’s terror victims will be held at Mount Herzl.