In the United States, where war has become an increasingly distant affair for civilians and is the burden of a few armed forces volunteers fighting in faraway battlefields, Memorial Day has for some become known more for its sales and the unofficial start of summer than for its purpose of honoring fallen soldiers.
But for Israelis, the threat of war is more real and the battles are much closer to home. As a result of their country’s geopolitical situation and recent founding, Israelis feel the cost of war significantly more than most of their allies in the West. The sobering cost of this reality is reflected each year on the Hebrew calendar date of the fourth of Iyar, which is Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day). Established unofficially in 1948, the year of Israel’s founding, and then officially in 1963, it is celebrated in conjunction with Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), which falls on the following day, the fifth of Iyar.
Captain Eytan Buchman of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesperson’s Unit explained how Yom Hazikaron is commemorated in an interview with JNS.org
“In Israel, Independence Day starts off immediately after Memorial Day. Here, Memorial Day is not about the sales; Israelis everywhere pay tribute to the fallen soldiers in a solemn day of mourning. The entire first half of the official government ceremony marking the start of Independence Day is devoted to Memorial Day. There is no abrupt shift—everyone in the crowd, everyone watching on TV knows that these soldiers and their sacrifice is what let us celebrate yet another Independence Day,” Buchman said.
For this year’s Yom Hazikaron, JNS.org looks back on the lives of the four Israeli soldiers killed in action during the past year, according to the IDF, as well as the eight Israeli civilians who died as a result of terrorism.
Sgt. Nathaniel Moshiashvili
Sargent Moshiashvili, a 21-year-old resident of Ashkelon, served in the Golani Brigade. Moshiashvili studied until the age of 16 at an Orthodox yeshiva, and at the age of 17 moved to a national religious school where he finished the Israeli Matriculation exams with a 95 average. He was killed when his unit responded to an incident where a terrorist crossed illegally from Gaza, through the security fence, into Israel.
Cpl. Nathaniel Yahalomi
Corporal Yahalomi, a 20-year-old resident of Nof Ayalon, served in the Artillery Corps. He was killed while on patrol along the Israeli border with Egypt when a group of 3 terrorists opened fire on his squad (near Har Sagey). Another one of his squad mates was injured in the firefight as well.
Cpl. Josef Partok
Private Emanuel Partok, an 18-year-old from an ultra-Orthodox community in the town of Emanuel, was promoted after his death to corporal. Partok was part of the IDF forces that were sent to bolster the forces around the Gaza Strip during Operation Pillar of Defense in November. He was killed by a Hamas rocket.
1st Lt. Boris Yarmolonik
First Lieutenant Boris Yarkmolonik, a 28-year-old from Netanya, was an IDF reserve officer who was injured by a rocket in the Eshkol Region and died of his wounds the following day. Yarmolonik was injured in the incident along with five other soldiers. After sustaining a severe head injury, he was hospitalized in Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.
Since the Second Intifada, Israelis have also mourned the loss of civilians who were killed as a result of terrorism. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, eight Israelis were killed as a result of terrorist attacks over the past year.
On July 18, 2012, six people were killed, including five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver, and more than 30 were wounded in a suicide bombing attack linked to the terrorist group Hezbollah on a bus carrying Israelis at Sarafovo Airport in Burgas, Bulgaria. The seventh dead body was identified as the suicide bomber.
The victims were: Maor Harush, 26, of Akko; Yitzchak Kolangi, 28, of Petah Tikva; Amir Menashe, 27, of Petah Tikva; Elior Preis, 26, of Akko; Kochava Shriki, 44, of Rishon Lezion; and Mustafa Kyosov, 36, the Bulgarian bus driver.
On Nov. 15, 2012, three people were killed in a direct rocket hit from Gaza on an apartment building in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi during Operation Pillar of Defense.
The victims were: Mirah Scharf, 25, Aharon Smadja, 49, and Itzik Amsalem, 24.
Despite the myriad growing threats in the region—civil war in Syria, terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas, the Iranian nuclear program, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt—Israel, through technological marvels such as the Iron Dome missile defense system, has been able to better safeguard its soldiers and civilians over the past year.
Nevertheless, Captain Buchman reminded JNS.org that what enables Israel to survive are the men and women who serve in the IDF.
“I think that the most critical thing to bear in mind is that while Israel is a developed, Western country, we live in a rough neighborhood,” Buchman said. “There have been tectonic shifts throughout the Middle East but the ultimate stabilizers for Israel and its residents is the IDF. There is a famous Israeli poem called the Silver Platter, by Nathan Alterman, which describes the price that is paid for the Israeli security and stability. These sacrifices, made by Israeli men and women that serve on the land, in the air and on the water, are what keep Israelis safe.”
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