JERUSALEM (JTA) — A siren sounded throughout Israel as people and cars came to a halt at the start of Israel’s Memorial Day.
At the start of Yom Hazikaron on Tuesday night, the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, had a message for the troops.
“On this day, we bow our heads alongside the bereaved families that are living the incurable pain and longing every day that goes by,” he said. “IDF commanders and soldiers, seven decades have passed since sirens pierced the streets of the nascent state and brought silence to our country. And now once again time stands still. We halt our daily routine and stand still on streets across the country and on the side of roads. We stand together embracing our personal memories and grieving our national loss.”
“We unite in cemeteries, gather around memorial monuments and at IDF bases, and recall the lives that were lost in the darkness of memory — the lives of IDF soldiers and commanders, members of the intelligence community and the security forces that gave their lives together to defend the homeland.”
At the national ceremony at the Western Wall, Eisenkot stressed that Israel’s military would protect the Jewish state.
“Against every threat, our soldiers stand firm on the frontline and together with technology, prove that there on the fortress around the country there is a powerful army, an army that holds unprecedented capabilities and for a reality of security and prosperity,” he said.
President Reuven Rivlin said at the ceremony that Israel’s military supersedes politics.
“We did not leap into the tunnels as right-wing or left-wing, we did not lay in the trenches as the periphery and moshav communities, we did not storm the enemy as kibbutzim, villages and cities,” Rivlin said. “We will continue to be a society that fearlessly and relentlessly holds back any enemy which disputes our right for a home in our land. At the same time, we won’t let any rift, gap or divide ingrain itself amongst us.”
The Memorial Day observance began on Tuesday afternoon with a ceremony at the Yad Lebanim memorial for fallen soldiers attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
“The message left by the fallen is sharp and clear: Our lives may be too short, but we have guaranteed the life of the nation forever,” said Netanyahu, whose brother, Yonatan, was killed during the 1976 hostage rescue in Entebbe.
Also Tuesday, some 4,000 college-age Jews from around the world participated in an English-language memorial ceremony at the Latrun Armored Corps Memorial. The students are part of the yearlong Masa program, which organized the event.
The ceremony focused on fallen lone soldiers, Diaspora Jews who come to Israel to serve in the military without their families.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, also the Diaspora minister, joined about 3,000 Jewish leaders from the United States and other countries for the memorial. And some 9,000 people around the world tuned in to watch the ceremony via live stream, including Jewish communities in Mexico, Russia and Argentina.
Some 23,646 soldiers have died defending Israel. Seventy-one names were added to the list since last Yom Hazikaron, including 30 disabled veterans who died from complications of their service-related injuries. The day also memorializes the 3,134 terror victims; 12 names were added to that list since last year.
A second siren will sound on Wednesday morning, followed by the memorial ceremony to fallen soldiers at the military ceremony on Mount Herzl.