Israeli television programming went dark here Tuesday night as the nation began its annual observance of Remembrance Day, a 24-hour period of mourning that honors fallen soldiers and terror victims who died over the past 12 months.
Yom Hazikaron, as the holiday is called in Hebrew, is the most somber day on the Israeli calendar, and its observance reaches deep into the nation’s media landscape. All regularly scheduled television and radio programming is cancelled, swapped instead for televised interviews with bereaved families, as well as live footage of the various ceremonies and gatherings held throughout the course of the day.
Observance of the holiday also touches the radio waves, which for 24 hours offer only grief-themed ballads from Israeli artists. All talkshows, pop music and comedy or drama programming is put on hold.
The country’s television stations have been honoring the holiday since it was first established in 1963, committing months of planning each spring to the stories they will present onscreen. This involves categorizing the different kind of victims whose stories will be highlighted and making sure to equally represent the various kinds of deaths — that means including a narrative of someone who died in a terror attack, a soldier who died on the battlefield, and also a policeman or fireman who fell. One program, Keshet’s “They Are My Brothers,” (pictured) is being hosted by latenight personality Nadav Bernstein.
Israeli production shingles Keshet and Reshet take turns programming both days, so this year, the eve of Remembrance Day, Tuesday, is covered by Keshet, while Reshet will handle the bulk of the programming on Wednesday. Keshet’s programming includes a collaboration with Army Radio to feature texts written by fallen soldiers set to music composed especially for the day; a live broadcast of the annual Remembrance Day ceremony in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, and footage of a musical ceremony, hosted by actor Lior Ashkenazi and featuring several of Israel’s top recording artists, in the presence of the mayor of Jerusalem and many bereaved families.
On Wednesday, Reshet will broadcast a series of commemorative films created by families who lost loved ones as well as a live feed of the day’s annual ceremony at its national military cemetery in Jerusalem.
The nationwide honoring of its dead is a hallowed tradition in Israel, where nearly every citizen knows someone who fell either in war or terrorist attacks, and where society is marked by a strong sense of tribalism and mutual fate. Many Israelis spend Remembrance Day at the cemetery, visiting the graves of loved ones and offering comfort and support to family members.
The holiday is marked by two nationwide sirens, which ring out at 8 p.m. on the eve of the holiday and again at 11 a.m. the following day. As the sirens begin their long, low wail across the country, people stand in silent attention. Motorists pull over their cars and bathers at the beach stand still among the waves. It’s a stirring, deeply emotional sight of an entire country frozen in shared commemoration.
At sundown on Wednesday, the nation’s mood will experience a dramatic shift: Israel’s Remembrance Day is followed immediately by its Independence Day, and as the country transitions from grief to celebration, so will the special coverage on TV.