Memorial Day events to be canceled or held without audience amid corona outbreak
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Memorial Day events to be canceled or held without audience amid corona outbreak

Defense Ministry encourages Israelis to light memorial candles at home, not visit loved ones’ graves; sirens will sound as usual

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative: Bereaved Israelis mourn next to graves of fallen soldiers at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, during Israeli Memorial Day, April 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative: Bereaved Israelis mourn next to graves of fallen soldiers at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, during Israeli Memorial Day, April 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In a dramatic move, the Defense Ministry announced Tuesday that April’s national Memorial Day ceremonies will take place without audiences and that the smaller events planned for municipal cemeteries across the country will be canceled outright, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Israel’s Memorial Day — known as Yom Hazikaron in Hebrew — will begin the night of April 27, continuing into the next day. The yearly events begin with a nighttime national ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and a siren that sounds throughout the country. The following day, a pair of ceremonies are held at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery, along with smaller events at the 52 military cemeteries across the country.

Memorial Day is one of Israel’s few national, non-religious holidays, commemorating both soldiers who fell in Israel’s wars and people killed in terror attacks. During the holiday, large swaths of the Israeli public typically visit the graves of their loved ones, something they will not be able to do under the country’s rigid guidelines aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak.

On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry said it was radically changing the traditional methods of commemorating the day.

Israelis stand outside their cars in Tel Aviv as they observe two minutes of silence as an air raid sirens sounds to mark Memorial Day on May 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

“In an effort to preserve the health of the public on the one hand and to uphold national traditions, the defense minister ordered the Defense Ministry and the IDF Manpower Directorate to hold the central ceremonies at the Western Wall (on Memorial Day eve) and at Mount Herzl (on Memorial Day) as planned but without an audience, and that they will be live-streamed,” the ministry said.

The smaller ceremonies that were scheduled to take place in military cemeteries across the country will be canceled “and in their place IDF soldiers will hold a candlelight vigil and say the Kaddish [prayer],” the ministry said.

In addition, many of the larger ceremonies planned by organizations for bereaved families will not be held.

A bouquet of flowers is seen at the Nahalat Yitzhak Cemetery in Givatayim during Memorial Day commemorations on May 8, 2019. (Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The public is asked not to visit the graves of their loved ones, but to instead light a memorial candle at home, deputy Defense Ministry director general Aryeh Mualem told reporters.

A flag, wreath and memorial candle will be placed on the graves of soldiers and civilians killed in wars or terror attack by Defense Ministry representatives, Mualem added.

The pair of sirens that sound each Memorial Day — one at 8 p.m. to bring in the holiday and one at 11 a.m. the following day — will be heard as normal. Stores will be closed as usual on Memorial Day eve, he said.

Ordinarily, the Defense Ministry flies in family members of foreign-born lone soldiers for Memorial Day, but the official said this would not happen this year in light of a Health Ministry directive requiring all those coming from abroad to remain in isolation for two weeks. The ministry was planning to bring them to Israel on the anniversary of their loved one’s deaths instead, Mualem said.

In an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus, Israel’s government has instructed citizens to remain at home as much as possible, only leaving when absolutely necessary. Gatherings of over 10 people have been banned.

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