Erev Yom haZikaron

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Like all holidays here in Israel, their memorial day starts at sundown on the previous night. Yom haZikaron is commemorated with ceremonies throughout the country, large and small, and I attended three this evening which alternately matched and challenged my expectations:

Hassenfeld Family Community Center, Kiryat Hayovel, Jerusalem

In the early evening, the teen program at the Hassenfeld Family Community Center, in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood of Jerusalem, produced a musical presentation memorializing those who have died. Many of the teens sang, and others ran the sound board and recorded video of the event.

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The crowd was local, but filled the room to capacity, and the songs were generally sad and slow. They were performed without applause in between, to emphasize the solemnity of the day. A few of the teens explained the meanings of the songs, or their personal connection to what they sang. Most of the songs were traditionally sung in the Israeli army.

All of the singers wore coordinated white outfits, in a possible allusion to the styles typically worn on Shabbat or Yom Kippur. After the presentation, we headed out to the street for the first of two memorial air raid sirens, at 8 pm. I've learned since childhood that everyone stops for the siren, including drivers in the middle of the highway, and that it would be an amazing, awe-inspiring sight. Tonight, however, several cars continued driving amongst the ones that stopped. (When asked why, a local Israeli said that those drivers were just being jerks, rather than demonstrating some ideological opposition to the holiday.) The cars that stopped did nonetheless inspire awe, with their drivers standing alongside, and it was just as impactful in real life as I always imagined it to be.

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We then headed out to the main Jerusalem event. On the way, we passed through Ben Yehuda street, which was eerily silent for a Tuesday evening. Normally it would be bustling with tourists and young adult travel groups, but most businesses here close early on Erev Yom haZikaron. I was surprised to see a couple of 24-hour groceries and convenience stores that were still open, as well as a couple of the tourist-oriented Judaica shops on Ben Yehuda. We actually asked one of the Ben Yehuda proprietors why he was open, and he defensively assured me that he'd closed earlier in the evening, but had reopened to complete some paperwork. (Immediately after we left, he went to pull down the grate in front of his shop.)

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Jerusalem City Hall, Safra Square, Jerusalem

The next event in our evening was the central commemoration organized by Jerusalem's municipal government, on the plaza outside of city hall. This one was much bigger, and the audience extended past the seats to fill the entire plaza.

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The audience here was on the younger side, and listening attentively to the program. Most were dressed in a secular manner. Speakers and videos alternated with live musical performances, and the tone - like the first event - was subdued.  I wasn't familiar with many of the songs, but I recognized this one, Eili Eili, from my own Jewish education:

Western Wall Plaza, Jerusalem

We closed the evening at the Western Wall. The official ceremony had ended, but there was a memorial flame on the plaza, guarded by a pair of soldiers.

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The flame was interesting, but I was most fascinated by the mix of bystanders watching it from nearby. As I've come to expect from the Western Wall, it was an even mix of religious and secular observers, and the crowd grew when the time came for the soldiers to switch out. (No matter their observance level, most everyone watching had a smartphone out to record the moment.)

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If I'm being honest, the evening didn't actually end there. On the way back to our Airbnb, I had my first falafel of the trip. Only 16 shekels for the best pita I've had in a very long time. It had been a somber evening, of course, but it was nice to close it with one of my favorite things about Israel. Tomorrow, the daytime ceremonies of Yom haZikaron!

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