Israel has three national holidays within one week of each other in the Hebrew months of Nisan and Iyar. This year, they all land in April.
The apostle Paul urges us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). We believe that’s part of what standing with Israel means.
Yom HaShoah – Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day
The Holocaust is also known as the Shoah, which is the Hebrew word for “catastrophe.” Yom HaShoah (YOHM Ha-SHO-ah) then means “Day of the Catastrophe” and is a day of remembering victims and heroes of the Holocaust.
Yom HaShoah is designated for the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1941.
The observance begins in the evening, as the Hebrew day starts at sunset. Places of entertainment are closed, and flags fly at half-mast. According to the law passed in 1955, radio and television stations broadcast programs focused on the special nature of the day. Ceremonies and services are held all over the country. At Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial museum, six giant torches are lit, representing the six million Jewish people killed in the Holocaust.
In the morning, a siren sounds for two minutes throughout the country. During that time, Israel stands still in honor of those who lost their lives in the Holocaust or survived its horrific trauma. Work stops. People walking along streets stop. Drivers pull to the side of the road and stop, often getting out to stand by their vehicle for the duration of the memorial siren.
For more about Yom HaShoah, including a Holocaust survivor’s story, see “Yom HaShoah, Keeping the Cry Alive.”
Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day
Yom HaZikaron (YOHM Ha-Zee-kar-OHN) is a solemn day remembering and honoring those who lost their lives fighting to defend and preserve Israel’s freedom. In the early years of statehood, fallen soldiers of the War of Independence were honored on Israel’s Independence Day. However, the mixing of mourning and celebration was hard for families grieving such relatively recent losses.
In 1963, the Knesset, Israel’s governing body, signed into law the designation of Iyar 4, the day before Independence Day, as the national Memorial Day. The placement of the two national holidays makes for a profound connection. Without the sacrifices of those who fought for Israel, there would be no independence. So, first, Israel honors, then they celebrate.
Since its establishment, the day of remembrance has been extended to include soldiers who died in battles prior to statehood, as well as fallen members of the police, General Security Service and Mossad intelligence agency.
The Knesset put much thought into establishing traditions for Yom HaZikaron. They determined the day would be marked by the sounding of a siren, similar to that on Yom HaShoah, candle-lightings, ceremonies in schools and military cemeteries as well as special prayers.
A one-minute siren opens the day of observance at 8:00 p.m., followed by a national ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. A second siren sounds at 11:00 a.m., this one for two minutes. Television and radio stations broadcast programming honoring the fallen. Some include a scrolling list of names, highlighting the fact that each one represents a valuable life with their own story, sacrifice and family left behind. At 1:00 p.m., a national service honors the victims of terrorist attacks.
In the evening, a torch-lighting ceremony closes the day. Flags that have flown at half-mast all day are raised, and the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day begins.
For more about Yom HaZikaron, see “A Surprising Veteran of Israel’s War of Independence.”
Yom HaAtzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day
Upon the foundation of honoring those who gave their lives for the Jewish homeland, Israel celebrates her hard-won freedom with Yom HaAtzmaut (YOHM Ha-AHTZ-mah-OOT). You many know Israel’s rebirth as a nation to have taken place on May 14, 1948. On the Hebrew calendar, that date was Iyar 5. Israel celebrates her Independence Day annually on this date, which means the date on the Gregorian calendar fluctuates from year to year.
Along with official ceremonies and religious services, Yom HaAtzmaut is a day filled with fun and recreation. All over the Land, people attend concerts, festivals, picnics, and barbeques, go hiking, to the beach and enjoy themselves.
Fireworks light up the night sky, and the nationally prestigious Israel Prize is bestowed on selected individuals with outstanding accomplishments in various fields. Major categories include humanities, science, culture, and lifetime achievement and exceptional contribution to the nation, with prizes awarded in several subfields on a rotation cycle from year to year.
For more about Yom HaAtzmaut, see “Who Has Heard of Such A Thing?.”