Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism will formally begin at sundown Tuesday, as the country pauses for an annual remembrance marked with candle lightings, memorial services and melancholy songs.
A siren will ring out at 8 p.m. as Israelis pause to observe a moment of silence, marking the start of the commemoration day nationwide, with an official state candlelighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem taking place at the same time.
Israel’s 8.5 million citizens will be recalling 23,447 young men and women who perished in defense of the country. Among the communities who serve in the IDF and other security forces — Jews, Druze, Circassians and some Muslim communities such as the Negev Bedouin — there are few who do not personally know someone affected by the loss.
The past year saw 68 Israeli soldiers and police killed in the line of duty, as well as 32 civilians murdered in terror attacks.
In total, 2,576 Israeli civilians and pre-state Zionists have died in terror attacks since 1880.
The commemoration day, established in 1951 by then-prime minister and defense minister David Ben Gurion, was set for the 4th of Iyar, the day before Independence Day, which begins immediately after Memorial Day on Wednesday night.
The Defense Ministry’s Families and Commemoration Department expects some 1.5 million visitors to the nation’s 52 military cemeteries and hundreds of smaller military sections in civilian cemeteries.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a former chief of staff of the IDF, penned a condolence letter to the families of the fallen to mark the day.
“From Dan [in the north] to Eilat [in the south], men and women, Jews and non-Jews, religious and non-religious — grief knows no boundaries. We meet you, dear families, between the cold tombstones and at the memorial ceremonies, are moved by your strength, by your ability to choose life despite the disaster that struck you, and to be the pillar of fire that leads the camp,” he wrote in the annual missive.
The official ceremonies begin at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday with a ceremony at Jerusalem’s Yad Labanim fallen soldiers’ memorial.
At 8:30 p.m., Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square will host the “Singing in the Square” gathering, where thousands will sing traditional songs of commemoration for fallen soldiers, often punctuated by songs for peace and those commemorating the square’s namesake, assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Later in the evening, at approximately 9:15 p.m., the Knesset in Jerusalem will host a song and poetry event titled “Songs in their Memory.”
Wednesday morning’s commemorations begin at 11:00 a.m. with a two-minute memorial siren that will bring the country to a standstill and launch the official state commemoration ceremonies at the Mount Herzl national military cemetery, as well as military cemeteries nationwide.
A separate state ceremony commemorating Israelis and Jews killed in terror attacks will begin at Mount Herzl at 1:00 p.m., with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in attendance.
The most poignant moment on the modern Israeli calendar, the sudden switch from Memorial Day’s solemnity to Independence Day’s celebrations, will take place with a torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, launching Israel’s 68th Independence Day.