IDF soldiers during a memorial service. (Hadas Parush/Flash90) (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Yom Hazikaron

Israel came to a standstill on Wednesday to mark Yom Hazikaron, its national Memorial Day, and to commemorate the 23,477 fallen IDF soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks who have died over the course of the last 150 years.

It’s one of the most somber dates on the Israeli calendar. Places of entertainment shut down. Radio and TV stations air documentaries about the fallen soldiers and terror victims.

During the past year, 68 soldiers and police officers have died protecting the country, and 32 civilians have died in terror attacks.

The figure of 23,477 fallen soldiers is counted from when Jews first began to settle outside of Jerusalem in the 1860’s.

The dead include members of the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet (Israel’s Security Service), the Mossad, the Israel Police, the Israel Prisons Service and the World War II Jewish Brigade, and soldiers who died from their disabilities suffered during combat, including 59 such soldiers this year.

More than 1.5 million Israelis are expected to visit Israel’s 52 military and other cemeteries throughout Yom Hazikaron.

“For over 68 years we have been fighting the same war, the war for our independence,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said during memorial services at Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Tuesday evening. “It is a painful battle that all the time adds fresh scars to the body and spirit of this ancient and robust people.”

Yom Hazikaron

President Reuven Rivlin and a terror victim’s bereaved relative at the national memorial service. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

“We realize the bitter and horrible truth – that there is a terrible price – which you have paid – to be a nation determined to protect its citizens and its independence. We will stand strong against anyone who dares to put our resolve to the test in any way,” Rivlin said, addressing the families of fallen soldiers during the ceremony.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will continue to try to achieve peace with the country’s enemies.

“We will not give up on the hopes of reconciliation with our enemies, but first we will reconcile among ourselves, and there is no deeper expression of our shared fate than when we remember, with love, and salute our heroic sons and daughters who fell so that we could live in our country,” Netanyahu said.

Sirens wailed Tuesday night, and a two-minute siren wailed across Israel at 11 a.m. marking the start of memorial ceremonies at military cemeteries.

The day’s events concluded with a candle-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl and the melancholic atmosphere ended sharply at sundown Wednesday when Israel kicked off its 68th Independence Day celebrations.

By: United with Israel Staff and Agencies