JERUSALEM, Israel – On Monday evening at sundown, Israelis will transition from Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron) to Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut). It's a palpable transition from the solemnity of honoring its fallen soldiers and victims of terror to celebrating the establishment of modern Israel.
On Sunday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, joined by other senior government officials, spoke at the dedication of a new national memorial on Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl.
The memorial features the name of every soldier and terror victim – 23,544 to date – inscribed on a separate brick with the date of death. The bricks are arranged chronologically.
On the anniversary of a loved one's death, Jewish families often light a yahrzeit (memorial) candle in their homes. At the memorial, an electric candle will illuminate the brick on that day.
At the dedication, President Rivlin noted, "There is no other country that has learned to connect so precisely and carefully the personal and the national bereavement."
Maybe it's because Israel is so small – about the size of New Jersey – and maybe because most Jews have experienced anti-Semitism in one form or another, that the nation pulls together to honor its fallen.
As mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers remember their loved ones, the nation mourns with them, collectively honoring the sacrifice they paid in defending the State of Israel.
As Netanyahu put it, "We are one people, and it is clear to all of us that were it not for the sacrifice of these men and women – we would not be free in our own land. In fact, we would not be here at all. It is thanks to them that we exist, thanks to them that we live. Click here to read the full speech.
Speaking on behalf of the military, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said, "We, the soldiers and commanders of the IDF, are pained by the empty places in our ranks. But out of the void they left behind a promise reverberates."
"We will continue to bravely fulfill the mission for which our brothers gave their lives," he said. "May their memory be a blessing."
Israel's national anthem, Hatikva (the hope) says it well.
"As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart, with eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion, then our hope – the 2,000-year-old hope – will not be lost: to be a free people in our land – the land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Photos courtesy of TPS photographers Hillel Maeir, David Michael Cohen and Yissachar Ruas.