Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, is always intensely sad. This year, even more so. It feels like we are experiencing the climax of an extended Yom HaZikaron that began on October 7. The number of newly bereaved families is tragic and staggering. We live in a small country. Who doesn’t have some connection to a soldier killed in battle?

Malls, stores, and restaurants close by 7 p.m. on Erev Yom HaZikaron. A one-minute siren marks the start of Yom HaZikaron, followed by ceremonies throughout the country.

I attended a ceremony geared toward the chareidi community in Ramat Beit Shemesh. The separate seating ceremony featured Ohad Moskowitz, an international Jewish singer, who sang at various points throughout the presentation, accompanied by a chasidic Acapella choir. There was no live music.

After the recitation of pirkei T’hilim, a few minutes were dedicated to telling the story of each of the 13 boys from Beit Shemesh killed in the war. Their names and faces were projected onto a large screen. Tragically, their families were added to the group of 108 bereaved families of Beit Shemesh.

HaRav Rafi Assulin, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivat Shaalei Torah in Beit Shemesh, talked about his son, Shimon Yehoshua Hy”d, who fell in battle. Shimon was discharged after 70 days of fighting. Shimon could not tolerate being home when soldiers were still fighting and when hostages were still being held captive in Gaza. He returned to the front and joined a new unit. Within three days of joining them, he led the unit. On the fourth day, he was killed while saving the lives of those who were with him. Nobody else was killed or even had a scratch.

When Shimon’s commander interviewed him, he asked him what his hobby was. Shimon answered that he likes to work. He worked a lot on developing his inner world. He viewed protecting am Yisrael as his life’s mission. Rav Assulin stated that the heroes don’t need to be remembered. They are now at the Kisei HaKavod. It is we who need to remember. They died so that we can lead meaningful lives.

The father of Yehuda Becher Hy”d spoke about his son’s contagious spark that others easily connected to. Yehuda always focused on what others needed from him. He noticed the suffering of others. Someone who was crying hysterically at Yehuda’s l’vayah explained that he had been on the verge of suicide several times. Yehuda took notice, talked to him, and prevented his suicide.

Yehuda was at the party in Re’im on Simchas Torah. He met a girl who began to panic when the attack started. He calmed her down and helped her find her shoes so that she could run away. At some point, they split up. Yehuda sent her a message, checking on her. She asked if he ran away. His answer was, “Shefa gadol. Anachnu adayin ba’shetach.” “Great abundance. We are still in the field.” This last message captures Yehuda’s essence. Yehuda would say “Shefa gadol” often, seeing the positive even during difficult times. We watched a video of Yehuda heartily singing “Mitzvah g’dolah lihyos b’simchah tamid” and another one of him sweetly and sincerely singing “Elokai Neshamah.” It was touching when Ohad and the choir sang the song, as well.

HaRav Erlich, Rav of Kehillas K’hal Chassidim in Ramat Beit Shemesh Daled, spoke passionately about the hakaras ha’tov we must feel toward these k’doshim Hy”d. Their k’varim are auspicious places to daven.

In a video, Jen Airley, mother of Binyamin Airley Hy”d, who fell in battle in Gaza, told about the day Binyamin was killed. It had been a peaceful Shabbos morning during which the boys davened and sang. Later, the boys entered a building where the terrorists were thought to have been killed. The soldiers did not realize that one terrorist was still alive and hiding behind the couch. He shot at the soldiers. Binyamin did not suffer. He died immediately with a smile on his face. Binyamin used to say that he would be willing to die for Eretz Yisrael if necessary. He died doing what he wanted to do.

Yom HaZikaron leads right into Yom HaAtzmaut. How do we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut when we are under attack? When people are being killed? When residents from the North and South cannot return to the comfort of their homes? When hostages are languishing in unfathomable conditions?

Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations were subdued this year. The Official State Ceremony on Erev Yom HaAtzmaut takes place on Har Herzl. It is generally attended by government ministers, members of the Knesset, the Chief of General Staff, diplomatic staff, veterans of the IDF, and citizens. Roughly 5,000 people attend the ceremony. There are musical performances, dances, parades, and fireworks. The highlight is the torch-lighting ceremony. Twelve torches symbolizing the twelve Sh’vatim are lit by individuals thought to have made outstanding contributions to society.

This year, the ceremony was pre-recorded. Yellow chairs were set up for each hostage still in captivity, but they remained empty. There was no audience. The dancing was not celebratory as it usually is, reflecting the horrific events of October 7. Instead of one individual lighting each torch, 44 people lit the torches, each wearing a yellow ribbon. Groups of people were honored for their heroism connected to October 7 and the war. Iris Chaim, the mother of Yotam, who was accidentally killed by Israeli forces when he was held captive in Gaza, was among those who lit the torch of “Victory of the Spirit.” Ori Megidish, a soldier rescued from captivity, was among those who lit the torch of “Hope.” One torch was not lit, keeping thoughts of those missing at the forefront of our minds. Flag carriers typically march and create structures symbolizing the theme of the evening. This year, among the structures, were a yahrzeit candle and the word Yizkor. There were no fireworks.

To mark Yom HaAtzmaut under the current circumstances, the Bank of Israel has announced that they will issue commemorative coins with the theme “Am Yisrael Chai.” We look forward to them issuing coins commemorating our victory in this war.

Please continue to daven for the recovery of the wounded, the release of the remaining hostages, and the success and safe return of all chayalim and security personnel.

Suzie Steinberg, (nee Schapiro), CSW, is a native of Kew Gardens Hills and resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh who publishes articles regularly in various newspapers and magazines about life in general, and about life in Israel in particular. Her recently published children’s book titled Hashem is Always With Me can be purchased in local Judaica stores as well as online. Suzie can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and would love to hear from you.

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