An Israeli Memorial Day like no other as coronavirus imposes limits

With pre-taped segments and virtual visits to bereaved families, Remembrance Day in the shadow of the coronavirus is like no other in history.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Memorial Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism began Monday night at 8:00 p.m. with a minute-long siren when, as usual, people stopped what they were doing and stood silently to honor those who gave their lives for their country.

This is where the similarity ended to all Memorial Days past. When the slow military march began into the Western Wall plaza for the first official state ceremony, there was no audience to see it, due to worries over the coronavirus.

President Reuven Rivlin and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi referred to the battle against the deadly pandemic in their speeches as the honor guard stood behind them wearing the now-ubiquitous masks that everyone must wear outdoors.

Rivlin stressed the emotional difficulties of the enforced isolation on the bereaved families.

“How hard is the understanding, the feeling, that we cannot gather together, family, and friends, and lovers, to hurt, for a moment, together,” the president said. “

This year we cannot cry together, we cannot look into your eyes, but we will remember and remind others, and deeply feel, this year as well, the unimaginable price imposed on us” in order to be an independent country.

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The government had ordered restrictions on movement during Memorial Day, even forbidding mourners from attending their loved ones’ graves in military cemeteries throughout the country.

It was announced that the police would not go so far as to arrest any who insisted on this almost-sacred right, but the message came through loud and clear from officials speaking on every media outlet that the safety of the living came first.

Kochavi likened the health danger sweeping Israel to a war that the army is fighting alongside civilians. Both kinds of battle, he said, “push aside what is unimportant and marginal, and highlight what is important, and has value, and the holiness of life.

For the officers and soldiers of the IDF… these are always of the essence, coming as they do from our mission: to protect the sovereignty of the state and the security of its citizens.”

At the end of the ceremony, everyone watching at home was urged to go onto their balconies and stand at their windows to sing the national anthem. Scenes of families, couples and singles standing with memorial candles and Israeli flags as they sang were broadcast from many locations in the country.

Local ceremonies were also held without audiences, with village and city officials sending out YouTube, Facebook and other online addresses that residents could access to watch a mix of pre-taped and live presentations, songs and the laying of wreaths at the memorials to the hometown fallen.

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To enable bereaved families to feel enveloped in the love of their fellow citizens, virtual meeting rooms were set up online so that people around the world could join them at set times throughout the days leading up to Memorial Day and on the day itself.

There, people spoke about their relatives or friends who had given their lives in the service of their country or who had been killed in terror attacks.

Thousands joined these meetings to give them this honor and express their solidarity, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.

Netanyahu himself lost his brother Yonatan in 1976, when he was killed while leading the dramatic rescue of more than a hundred Jewish hostages at Entebbe airport in Uganda after their flight was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists.

A total of 23,816 military personnel have fallen in the line of duty since the start of the mass immigration to Israel, which is calculated from 1860.

One terror victim, 17-year-old Rina Shnerb, who was murdered in August by a remotely detonated bomb hidden on a nature path, brought the number of those killed by Arab terrorists since the founding of the state to 3,153.