By ANNA AHRONHEIM for The Jerusalem Post
For the first time since the founding of the state, military cemeteries will be quiet on Remembrance Day. Their gates shuttered, keeping thousands of family members away from their loved ones, in an attempt to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
In total, 23,816 IDF soldiers, police officers, prison wardens, Shin Bet security service and Mossad agents have been killed since 1860 defending the pre-state Yishuv and Israel. That number also includes members of the pre-state militias and the Jewish Brigade, who served in the British army during World War II. This year alone, another 42 were added to the growing list of fallen.
While the Health Ministry barred families from cemeteries over concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, Yad Lebanim director Eli Ben-Shem warned last week of physical confrontations in the cemeteries.
In a letter to Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the head of the Families and Commemoration Department within the Defense Ministry Aryeh Moalem, Ben-Shem said that bereaved parents have threatened to commit suicide on the graves of their sons or daughters.
Nevertheless, the government stood their ground and urged family members to visit the 53 military cemeteries ahead of the day, in small groups, in order to adhere to Health Ministry regulations.
And many bereaved families have done just that.
Anat Ben Yaakov, who came to the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery north of Tel Aviv to pay her respects to her brother Aryeh Hayik who fell in battle 46 years ago when she was only six years old, was not upset at the government’s decision.
“All our lives we’ve remembered him, so this year is a little different. But I’m not mad at anyone, I understand the Defense Ministry. What the country gives us bereaved families, how they support us, there’s no other country that does that.”
Ben Yaakov told The Jerusalem Post that despite the criticism against the decision, she was grateful to be able to visit her brother’s grave in peace.
“Next year Remembrance Day will be like every other one. With thousands of people. And it’s actually nice to be here now, with the quiet. I don’t need the pressure and noise. I’m with his memory today, without a lot of people looking at me. I can hug his grave as much as I want. It’s more intimate and personal.”