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To stand, or not to stand? The politics of Israeli memorial days

Some Israelis prefer to choose by themselves how and when to remember the fallen soldiers, and not be forced to stand in silence when Memorial Day sirens are sounding.

Almost all Israelis do it automatically, without thinking about it. As soon as the siren sounds on Holocaust Memorial Day and on Memorial Day for the Fallen in Israel’s Wars, Israelis get up and stand still. If driving, they pull to the side of the road, get out of their cars or off of their motorbikes and stand beside them.

Israeli tradition dictates that ceremonies on both these days begin with a one- to two-minute siren across the state. This ritual of standing in silence while a siren blares is one of the few things that the overwhelming majority of Israelis agree on observing, at least in public spaces. Those who do not stand are a very small minority. “We’re talking about a ritual that is the ultimate Israeli Zionist ceremony,” said Jackie Feldman, a lecturer in anthropology at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev who studies secular ceremonies.

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