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For Those Who Lost Loved Ones, Israel’s Memorial Day Siren Never Stops
A lone Israeli soldier pays his respects at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, on April 28, 2020, Israel's Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)

For Those Who Lost Loved Ones, Israel’s Memorial Day Siren Never Stops

The annual commemoration is important for ‘everyone else,’ bereaved relatives argue

At 8 pm, to mark the start of Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism, a siren sounds for one full minute and the country stops. People get out of their cars, even on highways, and stand in silence; people stop work and silently reflect. After 60 seconds, life resumes.

The next day, bereaved families visit the graves of loved ones at military cemeteries across Israel.

For some, the siren never stops.

“Every time we have a simcha [happy event] …, we remember that Yishai is not with us. All day every day, I see him: I have a picture near my bed, in my wallet, in my office,” Menachem Shechter, who lost his then-21-year-old brother in the South Lebanon conflict in 1996, told The Media Line. “My little boy is called Yishai, and every day when I call my son Yishai, I remember my brother.”

1st Lt. Yishai Shechter. (Courtesy Menachem Shechter)

The Security Zone in Lebanon Campaign, as the 1985-2000 conflict is known in Israel, pitted the South Lebanese Army militia and the Israeli military against Hizbullah.

For Shechter, who served in the South Lebanon Security Zone for five years beginning in 1990, and again as an officer in 1997 and 1998, Memorial Day, which this year begins on the evening of April 13, helps him to remember the nearly 100 people he has lost, either soldiers in his unit, friends, or friends of his brother.

“I do not remember them in the same way I remember my brother every day,” he said.

Each year, Shechter gives lectures to schoolchildren about his brother; this year he did it via Zoom. He said the government’s recent recognition of the Security Zone in Lebanon Campaign as a war, and the decision to award those who served in it a campaign medal, has also helped the healing process.

“I’m very happy the government recognized this war and finally, when people ask me what war my brother died in, I have an answer,” Shechter said. “No, he didn’t die in the First [1982-1985] or Second [2006] Lebanon War, he died in the Security Zone in Lebanon Campaign war. This was very important to me.”

Amnon Harshoshanim, a senior high-tech manager and social entrepreneur, lost his brother Yoav in the South Lebanon Security Zone in 1994. For him, Memorial Day is a chance for other Israelis to feel some part of what the families feel.

“There’s a difference between what those who lost somebody close to them experience and those who haven’t. … Memorial Day is not a unique day for the families,” he told The Media Line. “[For us], every day is Memorial Day. It [the annual commemoration] is for other people to feel with the families and share some of it. For the families, this void can never really be filled.”

Yoav was just 21.

1st Lt. Yoav Harshoshanim. (Courtesy Amnon Harshoshanim)

“Yoav was very idealistic; he believed in what he was doing 100%. … Even as a kid, he wanted to be in the army. When he was 10 years old, Napoleon was his hero,” Harshoshanim said. “We went on a trip for my and my twin sister’s B’nei Mitzvah celebrations to Western Europe and we were in a town in northern Italy where Napoleon had spent the night. He was three years younger than us and wanted to lie in the same bed as Napoleon.

“Yoav ended up where he wanted. He wanted to be where the action is and to make an impact,” Harshoshanim said.

He said that Memorial Day has become a happier day to remember Yoav.

“Now what remains are memories and stories for my parents. It’s not necessarily true in every family that [Memorial Day] is a sort of celebration. … My parents lost their son in a heroic way, upholding the values he was raised in,” Harshoshanim said.

Yifat Leshem-Argaman owns Shvilim, a company that gives inspirational lectures to companies and organizations, and Yifat’s Place, a jewelry store in Modiin, a city halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. She agrees with Harshoshanim about Memorial Day.

“It’s more for the people who don’t have it every day; the families feel it every day, all the time,” she told The Media Line.

Yifat Leshem-Argaman. (Courtesy)

Her brother, Moshe Leshem, whom she described as an artist and a gifted guitar player who had the ability to talk to anyone, was killed in 1991, the same year he started studying philosophy at Bar-Ilan University.

Leshem died at the age of 29, in an accident during air force reserve training.

“He and the pilot crashed in the Kinneret [the Sea of Galilee]; they only found his body three days later,” said Leshem-Argaman, who was 25 years old at the time.

Maj. Moshe Leshem. (Courtesy Yifat Leshem-Argaman)

“It was a tragic event in my life. … I fell into an abyss. It took many years until I could rebuild my life on a different path. You have to rebuild your life again with all the sorrow and the family is crushed. The parents are not the same as before. Neither are you,” she said.

She is glad the Defense Ministry now offers psychological help for siblings, which was not the case at the time.

Back then, society saw it this way, Leshem-Argaman said: “They asked how are the parents are doing, but they never asked about the sibling.”

“It’s not only losing your brother, it’s losing your parents. I do give my parents credit though, as they showed us the will to live and they saw our pain, even if they didn’t say it.”

Rebuilding your life after such tragedy takes time, Leshem-Argaman said. “There are two sayings: ‘Time heals everything’ and ‘Time heals nothing.’ The truth is somewhere in the middle.”

Avi Golan, now a civil engineering student at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, lost his Uncle Ben 20 years before he was born.

Ben, who was 18 in October 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, was part of Sayeret Shaked, a special forces unit of the Southern Command.

Cpl. Ben Golan. (Courtesy Avi Golan)

He wasn’t supposed to fight because he had an eye problem. Roughly two weeks after Ben switched to an intelligence unit, the war broke out and he went back to his old unit. “A friend hid him on the bus,” Avi said.

Avi’s father was only 15 when his big brother died, and their sister was seven. “Everyone was split apart during those times and dealt with it on their own,” Avi said. “The hardest part for my dad was that he lost his brother, but in a way, he also lost his parents. They weren’t able to function as normal parents because they were so stuck in their loss; they took care of their kids but emotionally they weren’t there.”

Avi said that in a way, “the circle was closed” when he joined the army.

The Shaked unit was shut down around 1980 and then, when the army revived the Givati Brigade, the first battalion was the Shaked Battalion. Then two more were established, including the Tzabar Infantry Battalion, in which Avi served as an officer.

For current soldiers, Memorial Day has taken on a different meaning as a result of army service.

“It really affects me because I think: ‘This could be me,’” a soldier in the West Bank who asked to remain anonymous because he did not have authorization to speak, told The Media Line. “I could be the one they are remembering.”

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