By YAAKOV LAAPIN
Events to commemorate the memories of 23,741 fallen soldiers and civilians began in Israel on Tuesday evening as part of Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism.
According to the Defense Ministry’s Families and Commemoration Department, 56 casualties were added to the count this year, including 40 disabled people who died as a result of their condition.
The Defense Ministry said it expected more than 1.5 million Israelis to visit military cemeteries across the country on Wednesday.
Memorial Day marks the memories of fallen from the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet and Mossad intelligence services, the Israel Police and the Israel Prisons Service. It also honors the memories of civilians murdered in terrorist attacks.
A one-minute siren sounds at 8 p.m. on the eve of Memorial Day, and a two-minute siren sounds at 11 a.m. on Memorial Day on Wednesday. Flags on public builds are at half-mast, and ceremonies take place across the country, including in 52 military cemeteries and some 50 memorial monuments.
The Defense Ministry has sent teams to cemeteries and ceremonies around the country to hand out hundreds of thousands of water bottles, plant new plants and place more than 20,000 chairs—one at each gravesite. Tens of thousands of memorial candles and flags have also been set in place.
The Defense Ministry describes Memorial Day as arguably the most prominent day on the calendar that promotes national consensus and identification, and reduces divisions. The day is “designed for the whole of Israeli society and not exclusively for bereaved families,” it said.
In 2017, the state constructed an official Memorial Hall of Israel’s Fallen at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, officially unveiling it during Memorial Day 2017.
The Hall is where the central memorial ceremony will begin on Wednesday following the 11 a.m. siren, and where the memorial candles will be lit. The ceremony will be attended by Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, the IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Col. Aviv Kochavi and the Acting Israel Police Commissioner Moti Cohen. The ceremony will also be attended by the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, and the head of the Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, as well as head of the Prisons Service Asher Vaknin.
The Defense Ministry described the Memorial Hall as a place that commemorates all of the fallen since 1860, including all of those who fell in Israel’s wars. It is a place that “allows personal and collective commemoration,” and an expression of the “moral duty to remember them all,” the Ministry stated.
The Ministry added that the central goal of its Families and Commemoration Department is to express respect and recognition held by the state for its fallen, and to provide an ongoing service to support bereaved families.
Bereaved families receive year-round support from Defense Ministry teams, including home visits and continuous communications. Care-givers tend to the needs of the elderly and provide workshops on how to manage household expenses for bereaved parents, widows and widowers.
This year, the Defense Ministry said that 40 care-giving groups were active, helping aging parents, widows, adult orphans, newly bereaved parents and bereaved Druze mothers.
The Ministry said that Memorial Day is represented by three symbols: “Lighting the candles for commemorating memories, placing flower arrangements for emotional expression and placing small national flags with black memorial ribbons tied around them on each grave, as an expression of national honor for the fallen and the participation of state in the sense of loss of bereaved families.”