Israel celebrates 64th birthday, mourns war dead

At sundown April 25, Israel concluded its Memorial Day events and turned to celebrating the country’s 64th birthday.

A one-minute siren the evening before marked the beginning of Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day, Israel’s official Memorial Day, or Yom HaZikaron. The siren was followed by a national ceremony held at the Western Wall and televised to the entire nation.

High school students in Jerusalem take part in Israel’s national Memorial Day ceremony. photo/jta-flash90-noam moskowitz

“Your beloved ones had a crucial part in the achievements of the state,” Israeli President Shimon Peres told the bereaved families at the ceremony. “We shall forever remain indebted to your children. No act or gesture on our part can relieve your pain and the memories that will not vanish.”

According to official figures, the total number of fallen soldiers and victims of terror stands at 22,993, with 126 killed in the last year.

Israel’s Cabinet approved the establishment of an $11 memorial hall on Mount Herzl to honor all those killed. The names of the dead will be inscribed on bricks.

Memorial services were held in communities and military cemeteries across the country April 25, culminating with the torchlighting ceremony on Mount Herzl at 8 p.m. to usher in Yom HaAtzmaut, or Israel Independence Day.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin lit the main torch together with Yaron and Sigalit Bezaleli, the parents of First Lieutenant Hila Bezaleli who was killed in the stage collapse incident on Mount Herzl last week.

Rivlin said that the people of Israel must remember that “we were and still are a generation of settlers.” He addressed the past year’s notable events, including the release of Gilad Shalit from captivity and the social protest.

The ceremony usually ends with the traditional hora dance against a backdrop of fireworks, but this year the celebrations were scaled back in light of last week’s tragic accident.

On April 24, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics announced that Israel’s population stands at 7.88 million. Three-quarters of the population, or 5.93 million people, are Jewish. The 1.62 million Arabs in Israel comprise 20 percent of the population. — jta &