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This week, Israel celebrates two linked holidays in a row: Memorial Day and then Independence Day. Yesterday was Israeli Memorial Day, or Yom HaZikaron in Hebrew. As per the Jewish tradition, since sundown signals the beginning of a new day, Memorial Day began the evening before, with several events including a nation-wide sounding of air raid sirens at 8 PM. Waking up early the next morning, my roommate Zack, his girlfriend Penina, and our friends Erica and Mo’iz (an Israeli student) all departed for Mount Herzl, which is the location of both Yed VaShem (the Israeli Holocaust memorial) as well as the Israeli National Military Cemetery. We were ready for nearly an hour before the Israeli people coming with us decided they were ready to go, which was intensely frustrating for the Americans present, but such is the Israeli sense of time (we were assured “we’ll leave in about 5 minutes” for at least 35 minutes worth of waiting).

Finally on the bus, still arguing about politics and morality in the region (see the last couple of paragraphs for that separate but noteworthy occurrence), we started towards the Cemetery. As we got closer to that side of the city, pulling into the Central Bus Station, we began to grasp just how many people were going to the same destination as us. Like, to the extent where something like half of the Egged [Israeli] bus lines buses were pressed into service as free, constant shuttles from key areas to Har Herzl. Egged employees, with their brilliant blue uniform shirts, an angry Israeli expression, and in many cases, a megaphone yelling instructions where to walk and which bus to take… and were then promptly ignored by something like 70% of the crowds most of the time. Our shuttle from the Central Bus Station eventually reached the drop off point, which is both where we started walking and where my photographs start.

Once we got near the Cemetery, we immediately started waiting for the huge mass of people to make their way in through the small gates in time for the 11 AM remembrance tekes (Hebrew for “ceremony”); we were outside around 10:40, so we needed to get in quickly. On our walk in, we were handed a small prayer sheet, as well as as many bottles of water and bouquets of flowers (to lay on graves) as we wanted, all free of charge. We eventually made our way into the Cemetery, and were led by our Israeli friends to one of the many smaller plots with graves, families grieving over their lost loved ones, and then Israelis and internationals there to observe the holiday, or to simply observe the situation.

After hustling our way to a railing, the speakers above us crackled to life moments later with Hebrew, announcing that the air raid siren sounding was imminent. People instinctively got quiet early, and then we stood through something like 3 consecutive moments of silence before the siren sounded (this is one of the included videos I took), which is a long time; silence is uncomfortable in small doses, so perhaps this can illustrate just how deeply emotional the moment was for many of those present. Eventually, the siren sounded for a prolonged period of time, thus signaling to people both in- and out-side of the Cemetery that the official moment of remembrance had arrived.

After this, the tekes started, being led by two Chief Rabbis of Israel (one Ashkenazi and one Sephardic man), with a few hymns, a prayer, and other components (some of which you can experience by watching the attached videos). I spent a little while longer walking around the Cemetery, which is really quite different from Arlington, as Mount Herzl is very uneven ground with constant changes in topography, leading to a lot of non-uniform grave sites of varying sizes. I found it very interesting that in addition to a headstone, every grave had about a meter’s worth of growing plant as part of the grave (see the photographs), which is strong imagery indeed.

After spending some more time in the Cemetery grounds, and having gotten separated from my friends in the massive crowds, I decided to follow the advice of an Egged employee and get onto one of the free shuttle buses… which ended up going to the Jerusalem mall farthest from any viable bus stop. I jumped back onto the bus, asked the driver as to why I was directed to the wrong place, got a dismissive shrug as a result, and sat back down to go… right back where I came from, on Mt Herzl. Finally getting back there, and using the awful modern architecture bridge in Jerusalem as my frame of reference, I started on foot towards the Central Bus station, and therefore both buses and food. Moving quickly, I actually managed to catch up with and nearly pass by my friends (odd how that worked out, no?). We all walked to the bus station in the oppressive heat, and went our separate ways. I wish I had something more interesting to post about Independence Day and what I did, but I was feeling sick and stayed in my room that day to rest. I did hear about the craziness of the center of the city, and I personally heard the fireworks; it appears that Israelis get a bit more crazy about Independence Day than people do in the US.

All of that said, the first video I took was of the extraordinarily long silence between the end of the Chief Rabbi’s announcement that the siren was about to sound and thus all should be quiet in thoughtful anticipation (a few minutes before the siren actually sounded, mind you):

The second video I took was of the responsive kiddash, which is a type of prayer, and for today, specifically a prayer of remembrance for the dead. Can you pick out the “amens,” which is still used from the original Hebrew meaning “so be it”:

Shortly after that, the Chief Rabbi intoned a hymn used in memorial services (as Zack later explained to me):

Finally, in one of the multiple plots of headstones for the soldiers, amidst the grieving families and introspective Israelis, the speakers played the Israeli national anthem, a sort of closing hymn for the remembrance tekes (ceremony):

A short gallery of many of the photographs I took while visiting the Israeli National Military Cemetery:


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