Israel marks Memorial Day in shadow of pandemic

  • By Editor
  • 04 28
  • 2020

By Itzhak Rabihiya



'I know, dear families, that you do not need Yom Hazikaron to remember,' says President Rivlin at Western Wall ceremony held for first time without audience; 'Despite the distance, the people of Israel are with you,' says IDF Chief Kochavi 




The remembrance of fallen loved ones is no less diminished by the coronavirus regulations that have prevented the usual Memorial Day ceremonies from taking place, President Reuven Rivlin said Monday night. "I know, dear families, that you do not need Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day, to remember," he said at the state ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. 


President Reuven Rivlin this evening, Monday 27 April delivered remarks at the official ceremony opening Memorial Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terror, held at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. “Dear families. ‘I drew myself the kingdom of heaven,’ wrote the poet Avraham Chalfi. ‘I drew myself the kingdom of heaven In green - In memory of all my dead. And they hear me calling their names And answer me with a grin. It’s sad without them in the rooms Where they left their voices echoing.’ And this year, this year you are alone in rooms, listening to the echoes of their voices. We cannot come to your homes, we cannot stand beside you at the military cemeteries. We cannot embrace you, to hold you close when the siren pierces the silence, tearing at our hearts. 


The ceremony at the Western Wall is usually attended by bereaved families, soldiers and dignitaries, but the restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic meant no audience and just a small honor guard and a handful of speakers, all observing social distancing and wearing face masks. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, meanwhile, compared pandemic to wartime and echoed the president's message that the bereaved families are not alone despite the current situation. 




“The Western Wall plaza is almost completely empty, but before my eyes I can still see the people that every IDF soldier, past and present, is sworn to protect," he said. “These are complicated days accompanied by fear and worry over the danger that moves among us. This time of crisis is not unlike a time of war, which sidelines the unimportant and accentuates the important, the valued and the sanctity of life," Kochavi said. 


As it does every year, a one-minute siren wailed across Israel at 8pm Monday to mark the start of Memorial Day. But while bereaved Israelis traditionally mark the day with visits to the graves of loved ones, this year the decision to limit the number of visitors to cemeteries due to the coronavirus has sparked anger and compounded the grief. 


As per Health Ministry's instructions, cemeteries and memorial sites all across the country have closed their doors to visitors until Wednesday evening, with a bolstered police presence at key sites in order to prevent mass gatherings.


Due to the upset of bereaved families who are unable to visits the graves of their loved ones, officers were instructed to focus on prevention and outreach activities, explaining the importance of adhering the emergency regulations amid the coronavirus spread. 


The state ceremony was to be followed at 9pm by a memorial service was to be held at the Knesset plaza in Jerusalem. Also at 9pm, a special memorial called “Songs in Their Memory" was expected to take place inside the Knesset. On Tuesday, a two-minute siren will sound across the country at 11am, followed by the main memorial service honoring the fallen IDF soldiers on Mount Herzl in the capital. Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett were all expected to attend the event. The main memorial service for the victims of terror attacks will be held immediately afterward at 1pm. Both events will be held without an audience. Forty-two soldiers have been killed since last Memorial Day and the number of Israeli casualties of war stands at 23,816, counted since 1873, according to figures released by the Defense Ministry. 


The total number of terror victims stands at 4,166, with the last victim being Rina Shnerb, who was killed in August 2019, when she was hit by an improvised explosive device when she visited Danny Spring near the West Bank settlement of Dolev. At 9:40am Wednesday, a ceremonial flyby will be held by the IAF's acrobatic planes wing over the country's hospitals in honor of Israel's medical workers who are battling COVID-19 epidemic. 


At 7:40pm on Wednesday, the traditional transition ceremony from Memorial Day to Independence Day will be held at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem. The national atmosphere then moves from one of sadness and grief to celebration at the 72nd anniversary of creation of the state. The 72nd Independence Day festivities will end at 7:30pm Wednesday with the Israel Prize award ceremony.



Attached photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)


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