A universal language: Memorial Day around the world

IDF soldiers stationed overseas honor the memory of the fallen in many countries around the world with the help of Jewish communities
Yoav Zitun|
Memorial Day isn’t commemorated only in Israel, but also in dozens of Israeli diplomatic missions around the world, led by the IDF soldiers in military units stationed in various embassies.
<< Follow Ynetnews on Facebook and Twitter >>
More stories:
In 150 countries, no less than 3,000 bereaved families are accompanied throughout the year by IDF representatives alongside the Jewish Agency, while funding family members' visit to Israel once every five years.
6 View gallery
אל"מ סמיון גמבורג
אל"מ סמיון גמבורג
Simion Gambourg
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
The Defense Ministry sends thousands of memorial packs every year, containing booklets with translations in various languages for bereaved families living outside of Israel, from China and Hong Kong, through Russia and France, to Morocco and countries in South America.


Col. Simion Gambourg, a Navy officer who has been serving as an IDF attaché in Brazil for the last eight months, is keeping contact with 16 bereaved families throughout the country with the help of his team.
"We’ll fly some of them to the ceremony at the embassy because Brazil is almost as big as Europe," he said. "One family has chosen to fly to the grave of their loved one on Mount Herzl this year, and we talk to all of them - even though most of them are already very old and speak only Portuguese.”
Like most ceremonies around the world, the ceremony in Brazil will also feature the Israeli flag being lowered halfway, but this year there are more requests from foreign diplomats to participate in the event.
6 View gallery
גדלי ישראל וברזיל
גדלי ישראל וברזיל
Flags of Israel and Brazil
(Photo: AFP)
"Over 80 officers from the Brazilian army and dozens of IDF attachés will attend. I’ll tell them about my classmate Adi Korol, who served in the combat unit Egoz and fell in Operation Protective Edge, and like me, made Aliyah from the Soviet Union in 1990.
Brazil’s military band will also attend the ceremony to perform songs and the national anthem. There are no sirens in Brazil, so we’ll play a recording of one over the speakers."
The Israeli attaché in Brazil also participated in the local "Army Days", an alternative to traditional Memorial Days that combines the memory of fallen soldiers.
Six such army days are held throughout the year, each representing a different branch of the military, and including impressive parades in central streets of major cities, in which the fallen soldiers’ names are read out.
'Soldiers in Brazil have a very special status among the public,' Gambourg said
These events are meant to showcase the military's capabilities to the general public, as Brazilian military forces are more focused on domestic security, such as dealing with crime in the favelas where military units are sometimes deployed.
"Soldiers in Brazil have a very special status among the public, with a large navy base in Riom heritage sites, and cenotaphs," Gambourg added.


The IDF representation in Helsinki, led by Lt. Col. Tal Hefetz, is among the army’s newest, opened in July 2021, half a year before the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, which affected all of Eastern Europe, and led to Finland’s induction into NATO.
Helsinki’s Jewish community is relatively small, which is why the local Memorial Day is held in May in cemeteries, and churches where the residents gather for prayers.
Last year, Memorial Day was attended by 60 people, but to everyone's surprise the few attendees - including local army officers and state officials - asked to stay for another three hours and hear the stories of Israel’s fallen.
6 View gallery
סא"ל טל חפץ
סא"ל טל חפץ
Tal Hefetz
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Finland is mostly sentimental towards local military personnel who fought in World War II, in which the country initially supported Nazi Germany, with the issue revisited every year. Nevertheless, the ceremonies are carried out relatively modestly, without fanfare, sirens, or loud noises.
Jewish soldiers who fell while serving in the Finnish army are also honored in a ceremony organized by the local Jewish community. In Finland, however, they make sure to honor not only the fallen but also the veterans living among them.


According to various estimates, there are at least 400,000 Jews in France, making it the second-largest Jewish community outside Israel after the U.S. Accordingly, hundreds of soldiers of French origins serve in the IDF, many of them being lone soldiers whose families remain in France.
About 90 bereaved families live in France, and in recent years, IDF representatives in Paris had to inform families that their loved ones who served in the IDF had fallen in Israel.
IDF attaché Col. Amit Avitan managed to develop a personal relationship with France’s bereaved families and hosted them in informal army events to strengthen their connection to Israel with more than just their mourning.
6 View gallery
בנימין ושרה נתניהו
בנימין ושרה נתניהו
French and Israel flags
(Photo: Marc Israel Sellem)
"France has bereaved families from all of Israel’s wars, and the ceremony held here is the most similar to what is familiar at the Memorial Day ceremony in Israel," Avitan said, "the siren is heard at the same moment as in Israel on Memorial Day eve. Israelis who are in Paris come here and ask to attend, such as Israeli pilots.”
In France, there’s an emphasis on honoring local fallen soldiers through a series of ceremonies and events throughout the year, not just on "Armistice Day" in November, which is considered the closest equivalent to the Israeli Memorial Day.
The day is a sabbatical in which ceremonies are held throughout the country, commemorating various wars and historical military operations, similar to Israel.
However, because the French army is a professional one and doesn’t operate by mandatory conscription, the narrative of national mourning is stronger than the personal one.
"It’s often perceived as a profession that people chose, like in the police force, and therefore involves risks," Avitan noted.
"There’s solidarity among the French people; in one of the recent memorial services, they even displayed the names of the fallen soldiers on the screen, similar to what we do in Israel."


Dozens of Israeli or Jewish families live in India’s New Delhi, and many of them have requested to participate in the Memorial Day ceremony which will be held in the IDF representation located in the capital.
6 View gallery
נציגי צה"ל בהודו
נציגי צה"ל בהודו
Israeli and Indian soldiers
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Following the official ceremony, which is similar to the one held in Israel, Col. Avichai Zafrany, the IDF attaché in the country, will lead a unique memorial event where songs will be chosen and dedicated to the fallen soldiers.
Like in Paris, there are also many Israelis, including tourists, in the Indian capital who have heard about the ceremony and requested to join.
6 View gallery
נציגי צה"ל בהודו
נציגי צה"ל בהודו
IDF soldiers in India
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
In the subcontinent, there is no national memorial day for fallen soldiers like the one held in Israel, but recently, a large museum was established near the "India Gate" memorial in New Delhi to commemorate local fallen soldiers.
The museum highlights Indian troops who lost their lives throughout the country’s history, decorated soldiers, and senior officers who fell in battle.
On India's annual "Republic Day," which is equivalent to Israel’s Independence Day, events are held to honor the country’s fallen.
"They honor the fallen and those currently serving in the army greatly," Zafrany said. "In schools, stories about the Indian army’s heroism are taught, but unlike in Israel – the personal story of individual soldiers aren’t published. India is a country with 1.4 billion people, so when a soldier falls, it doesn't make the headlines like in Israel. This is also because of the cultural difference.”
The commenter agrees to the privacy policy of Ynet News and agrees not to submit comments that violate the terms of use, including incitement, libel and expressions that exceed the accepted norms of freedom of speech.