OpinionJewish Diaspora

The resounding importance of Yom Hazikaron

Israel’s Day of Remembrance has significance for us all, even Diaspora Jews.

An Israeli soldier places flags around the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem ahead of Yom Hazikaron, May 8, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
An Israeli soldier places flags around the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem ahead of Yom Hazikaron, May 8, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Jan Lee. Credit: Courtesy.
Jan Lee
Jan Lee is an award-winning editorial writer and former news editor. Her articles and op-eds have been published in a variety of Jewish and travel publications, including the Baltimore Jewish Times, B’nai B’rith Magazine, Jewish Independent and The Times of Israel.

This year, more than most, Jews internationally need to commemorate Yom Hazikaron.

Israel’s Day of Remembrance was created more than 70 years ago with a unique purpose, which was to honor soldiers and civilian fighters killed during the efforts to establish its nationhood. But in recent years, it has taken on an additional role: to acknowledge the mounting numbers of citizens murdered during terrorist attacks on Israeli soil.

The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism went a step further last year by introducing a policy that recognizes the victims of antisemitic terror attacks throughout the world. No event more symbolizes that connection than the Oct. 7 massacre in southern Israel—an attack whose victims hail from across the world and include Jews, Christians and innocents of other faiths as well.

But this year’s memorial has another, often overlooked significance. This year marks a half-century since the terrorist attack in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona when 18 civilians, largely immigrants, were murdered in their homes. Eight of the victims were children in their apartments during the Passover holidays. The massacre and the terror attacks that followed during the next few months that year became front-page news in international media, forcing the U.N. Security Council to intervene and call for a buffer zone on Lebanon’s southern border. According to U.N. Security Council records from April 1974, Israel’s efforts to persuade the United Nations to hold both Lebanon and the Palestinian Liberation Organization accountable for the cross-border attack were rebuffed. U.N. peacekeeping troops were established briefly on the border, but Lebanon refused to assume responsibility to stop terrorists from crossing into Israel.

I was in Kiryat Shmona a half-hour before the attack that morning. I was waiting for a bus to Jerusalem, where I planned to spend the rest of the Passover holiday. The bus left filled with travelers, including residents from the apartment building that had been targeted. Egged buses in those days were equipped with a portable radio that in the best of times was hard to hear over the chatter of riders. But when the emergency broadcast came on, panic ensued. Passengers began pleading with the driver to turn the bus around and head back to Kiryat Shmona so they could check on their families. The bus was eventually flagged and pulled over by a supervisor, who confirmed the news. The city had already been cordoned off by Israel Defense Forces, and the driver was ordered to continue on to Jerusalem.

It was a searing experience to step off a bus crammed with families and solitary travelers, knowing that some had survived a terrorist attack because they were on a shopping trip instead of at home. And worse, that they might not find out the fate of their families until they returned home. But the image I think of every Yom Hazikaron is that of the young Russian immigrant from Kiryat Shmona sitting next to me, whose tears were reflected in the window pane next to her. She had confessed to me a few minutes earlier that she was still learning conversational Hebrew. Apparently, she knew enough to understand the worst of the news broadcast.

Public memorials like Hazikaron help us heal. But they also serve as a way to register and reflect public unity and sentiment about compelling issues. And sometimes, when our representatives listen hard enough, response to those memorials can inspire action.

Perhaps Israel’s decision last year to enact a policy that recognizes the worldwide victims of antisemitism was prescient of the increasing need for global action against terrorism. It’s an uncomfortable thought. But if Israel is going to overcome the greatest threat to its safety, it won’t just come from within—from the yearly sirens that mark its losses or from its incessant efforts to inspire the United Nations to finally support its side of disputes. It will also come from those of us in the Diaspora, who know all too well the importance of a Jewish homeland.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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