Holidays, Jewish Life

Yom Hazikaron + Yom Ha’atzmaut

This week marks two holidays: Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). Celebrate and honor these holidays with remembrances, songs, food, and our special Yom Ha’atzmaut DIY wine tasting.

Yom Hazikaron (April 13/14): Israel’s Official Memorial Day

What is it?
The fourth of Iyar, the day preceding Israel’s Independence Day, was declared by the Israeli Knesset (parliament) to be a Memorial Day for those who lost their lives in the struggle that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and for all military personnel who were killed while in active duty in Israel’s armed forces. Joining these two days together conveys a simple message: Israelis owe the independence and the very existence of the Jewish state to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it.

How do we honor the holiday?
Yom Hazikaron is different in character and mood from the American Memorial Day. For 24 hours (from sunset to sunset) all places of public entertainment (theaters, cinemas, nightclubs, pubs, etc.) are closed. The most noticeable feature of the day is a siren that is heard throughout the country twice, during which the entire nation observes a two-minute “standstill” of all traffic and daily activities. The first siren marks the beginning of Memorial Day at 8 pm and the second is at 11 am the following day, before the public recitation of prayers in the military cemeteries. All radio and television stations broadcast programs portraying the lives and heroic deeds of fallen soldiers. Most of the broadcasting time is devoted to Israeli songs that convey the mood of the day.

“Magash Hakesef” (The Silver Platter), a poem written by Nathan Alterman during the 1948 War of Independence, was the most common reading for Yom Hazikaron ceremonies during the 1950s and ’60s. The poem attained a status almost similar to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in U.S. culture. During the ’70s, especially following the Six-Day War (June 1967) and the Yom Kippur War (October 1973), numerous new poems and songs commemorating fallen soldiers became popular and often replaced “The Silver Platter” in public ceremonies. “Hare’ut” (Friendship), a song composed a year after the 1948 war, had an impressive comeback in the 1980s and ’90s. It was a favorite of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Online Resources:
Watch the IDF Ensemble perform Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem, at the end of Friends of the Israel Defense Force’s Yom Hazikaron memorial ceremony. Watch now >>

Yom Ha’atzmaut (April 14/15): Israel Independence Day

What is it? 
Also known as Israel Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut marks the anniversary of the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. It is observed on or near the 5th of the Hebrew month of Iyar on the Jewish calendar, which usually falls in April. On May 14, 1948, soon-to-be Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel, which was recognized by the United States, the Soviet Union, and other countries, though not by the surrounding Arab states.

How do Americans celebrate?
Outside Israel, Jewish communities host parties and gatherings to celebrate. Often, the focus of these events is on Israeli culture, everything from classic Israeli foods — hummus, falafel, schnitzel, and shawarma — to Israeli dance, Israeli music, and all things Hebrew. People wear blue and white and wave Israeli flags. You can celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut too by trying Israeli foods, listening to music, and learning about Israel.

How do Israelis celebrate?
Other than the official ceremonies, Israelis celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut in a variety of ways. Crowds gather to watch free public shows offered by the government and spend the night dancing Israeli folk dances or singing Israeli songs. During the daytime, thousands of Israeli families go out on hikes and picnics. Army camps are open for civilians to visit and to display the recent technological achievements of the Israeli Defense Forces. Yom Ha’atzmaut concludes with a grant ceremony for the “Israel Prize” recognizing individual Israelis for their unique contribution to the country’s culture, science, arts, and the humanities.

Israeli foods to make during Yom Ha’atzmaut:

SJCC Events:

DIY Israeli Wine Tasting
Raise a glass as we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) with a curated DIY wine tasting event at home.  Order your six-wine package from (includes free shipping) and then drink along with our virtual wine guide from the comfort of your home. Order now >>

Watch SJCC event with Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak 

Online Resources:
My Jewish Learning Resources: How to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut during Covid