Each year 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 as the country grinds to a halt. People get out of their cars, even on highways, and stand in silence with their heads bowed. They stop their work and silently reflect. Once the 60 seconds have passed, life resumes.
The next day, bereaved families visit the graves of loved ones at military cemeteries across Israel as another two-minute siren wails across the country. 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,” says Menachem Shechter, who lost his then-21-year-old brother in the South Lebanon conflict in 1996. “My little boy is called Yishai, and every day when I call my son Yishai, I remember my brother.”
The Security Zone in "the Lebanon Campaign," as the 1985-2000 conflict is known in Israel, pitted the South Lebanese Army militia and the Israeli military against Lebanon's terror group Hezbollah.
For Shechter, who served in Lebanon for nearly seven years, Memorial Day helps to remember the nearly 100 comrades he had lost as a soldier and then as an officer, including his brother.
“I do not remember them in the same way but I remember my brother every day,” he said.
Each year, Shechter gives lectures to schoolchildren, telling them stories about his brother. This year, however, 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 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  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. Yoav was just 21. Harshoshanim believes Memorial Day is a chance for other Israelis to feel some of the grief felt by other families.
“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 said. “[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 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, adding that as years went by 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 the city of Modi'in.
She reiterates Harshoshanim's sentiments 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 said.
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 Sea of Galilee. They only found his body three days later,” said Leshem-Argaman, who was 25 years old at the time.
“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. “They asked how are the parents are doing, but they never asked about the sibling,” Leshem-Argaman said.
“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 even born.
Ben, who was 18 in October of 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, was part of Sayeret Shaked, a special forces unit of the Southern Command.
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.”
Article written by Tara Kavaler, reprinted with permission from The Media Line