by Commander Fred Sopher IN (Retd)
Amongst the most important days in the history of the State of Israel the three that stand out in modern times are Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron) Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmauth) and memorial Day (Shoah). The last one I witnessed in 1995 when I was holidaying in Ra'anana and wrote about (Issue No. 64 September 1995).
This year we (my wife and I) were again there during the period of Pesach and onwards. We lived with my daughter and her family in Ra'anana which is a small town four miles north of Tel Aviv as the crow flies and has a strong Anglo Saxon/South African influence.
Remembrance day as the name implies is a day of remembrance for those who died in the defence of the State of Israel. It began at 8:00 pm on Monday 19 April with the sounding of sirens thrroughout the land when every man, woman and child stood and remembered for a minute. All transport stopped in its track with the occupants of small vehicles getting out and standing with heads bowed. In the buses they stood and meditated.
For us in the Diaspora, it is hardly possible to visualise the solemnity of the occasion and it is only when you are there and see it happen that you can appreciate the feelings of the Israelis for the land and its people.
With the sounding stopping to mark the end of the minute silence, the various Remembrance Day programmes began both on TV and radio which are too many to enumerate. The one which in my opinion was heart-rending was on one of the TV channels and was devoted solely to those who died. Each persons Rank, Name and Date were shown and read out through the nights of the 19th and day of the 20th - all 18,893 of them.
My wife and I were on Rekhov Ahuza, the main streets of Ra'anana when at 11 am on the 20th the sirens were sounded again and this time the whole of Israel stood in silence and remembered for two minutes. Even the babies stopped crying and the birds were silent as though they knew that it had to be so. I did see many people wiping a tear from their eyes obviously remembering a loved one or friend who was no longer there. I thought about my in-laws (father, mother and two brothers) who had come to this Land in its infancy during 1948/50 and though not in battle, had fallen by the wayside.
At 8:00 pm on Tuesday the 20th the mood of the people changed from solemnity to celebration as it was now the beginning of Independence Day. It started with a fireworks display. Parts of Rekhov Ahuza had been closed to traffic, stages had been put up and dance bands/pop groups began their music and singing which lasted till well past midnight. At most the whole of Ra'anana's populace were on the streets including hundreds of prams with babies in them. There were the elderly and young and above all the children shouting and laughing and having one heck of a good time with groups of them dancing and singing in the streets. One of the side streets was also closed to traffic for the setting up of food stalls - Coke and Pepsi, Gleeda (ice-cream), kebabs, shwarma, hot-dogs, mac, sugar candy (budi-ka-bah for those from India) and of course the inevitable zeh a zeh.
The next morning the two of us went for an early stroll and in contrast to the night before, there was hardly a person on the streets - peace and quiet was reigning. I expected to see the streets covered with litter of the night before but were very pleasantly surprised to see them spotless. The Iriah (municipality) had been at work in the early hours and not a scrap of paper was to be seen. Kol-ha-kavod to the Mayor and his staff of RaĠanana.
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