Let’s not wait until Memorial Day to express gratitude to those who paid the ultimate price to establish and protect the Jewish state.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
Yom Hazikaron is Israel’s Day of Remembrance/Memorial Day for all those who were killed in the service of the state or in acts of terror. It goes without saying that we owe the existence of the Jewish state, and perhaps even our own existence as Israelis, to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
On Yom Hazikaron in Israel, all places of public entertainment (movie theaters, nightclubs, pubs, and even most restaurants) are closed. Radio and television programming focuses on the theme of the day, with one station broadcasting the name and picture, along with other personal details, of every single person who died in defense of the state or in acts of terror. In order to allow for all 26,000+ names to be broadcast in the course of the 24hrs of Yom Hazikaron, each name appears for about 3 seconds.
Perhaps the most moving aspect of Yom Hazikaron is the siren that is heard throughout the country twice. The first siren is at night, as Yom Hazikaron begins, and the second one is at 11:00 am when the official ceremonies at the military cemeteries are held. When the siren is sounded, the entire nation observes two-minutes of silence. Even traffic on the highways–buses, taxis, everything–comes to a halt. At the end of the day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, festivities begin and continue for twenty-four hours.
As an orthodox Jew, I want to suggest that Yom Hazikaron, remembering the fallen in defense of the state, may truly have been intended by our sages to be every day of the year…three times each day, in fact.
I suggest this based on the prayer “Ashrei” that is recited three times each day. Ashrei, a psalm that itemizes the praises of God in alphabetical order, is deemed by the Talmud to be the most important psalm in the book of Psalms.
While the Ashrei prayer primarily consists of psalm 145, it opens with a verse from Psalm 144, which reads: “Blessed is the people for whom this is, blessed is the people whose God is the Lord.” Perhaps the fact that the most important praise of God, that is recited three times each day, opens with a verse from psalm 144, is intended to convey a deeper message, and certainly something very moving.
Let’s take a look at some of chapter 144: “Praise the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God…my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield…who subdues peoples under me…Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow…Send out lightning and scatter the enemies…Deliver me and rescue me from the hands of foreigners.”
Examining these verses, along with the rest of the psalm, one quickly realizes that it is all about warfare, success in warfare, Divine assistance in warfare, the fragility of life, and remembering those who have fallen at the hands of our enemies, namely, everything that Yom Hazikaron is all about!
While Yom Hazikaron is certainly *the* day to remember the fallen, a day for all Jews, and a day that unites our people in memory of those who fell, perhaps orthodox Jews who recite their daily prayers and follow the teachings of our sages, should remember our fallen soldiers, not once a year, not even once a day, but three times each day when reciting the Ashrei prayer.
It might just be that our sages who instituted this opening verse of the Ashrei prayer did so with the prophetic foresight that one day in the future we would fight for our existence and right to live in the Holy Land and decided that not a single day should go by that we don’t remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us. Think about it. Your “Ashrei” may change forever!