Israel begins its observance of Memorial Day Monday evening, followed by celebration of its 75th Independence Day on Tuesday evening. Unlike the United States, where only a small fraction of Americans serve in the military, nearly every Israeli citizen serves in the Israel Defense Forces. And while Americans celebrate our Memorial Day with a barbecue, most Israelis are thinking of a relative or friend who died in combat. There is a somber mood over the nation, and in the middle of the day, sirens go off all over the nation. Every Israeli stops where they are, even on the freeway, and stand at attention. The only sound heard around the country is the haunting sound of the siren.
And at the end of Memorial Day Tuesday evening, genuine celebration of Israel’s Independence Day begins. The two days are inextricably intertwined, because without the sacrifice of over twenty thousand soldiers killed in action, and seventy five thousand wounded, Israel’s very existence would have been ended in the numerous wars it has fought since its founding in 1948.
The IDF is not just a Jewish army either. Bedouin, Druze, and Circassians all proudly serve, and in recent years, though not conscripted, Arab Christians have begun to volunteer. While current news of Israel centers around protests, this Memorial Day and Independence Day will be a day of unity. No matter the politics of every citizen, they all unite through a shared experience in their military service. The burden of defense is borne by all its citizens. It is a lesson we could learn in America.
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