Standing in silence for two minutes on Yom HaZikaron, the remembrance day for the fallen soldiers and victims of terror in Israel, is chilling. Cars come to a halt, people stop work. It’s beautiful and haunting.
When I lived and worked in Israel, I would take the groups I was working with to mark Yom HaZikaron on Mount Herzl at the national memorial ceremony.
When the commemorations were expanded to include the civilian victims of terror, it changed the nature of the ceremony and made it more inclusive. It expanded the meaning of sacrifice and service. This helped Israelis to recognise that war has many victims beyond the armed forces.
Now it’s our turn in the UK to do the same. The Royal British Legion announced that for the first time this year, the red poppies will also symbolise the remembrance of civilian victims of conflict and acts
As Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, I have the privilege of representing non-Orthodox British Jewry at the Cenotaph this Sunday. The military presence, the silence and the prayers create a national sense of mourning.
I welcome the change to extend the meaning of mourning, because it recognises that while not everyone can serve in the armed forces, there are those whose service was to keep the country running and the home fires warm during wartime.
There were families and friends behind all those who served. And there are also the innocent victims of terrorism over the decades, most recently the attacks at Manchester Arena and London Bridge.
My late grandmother and grandfather lived in London during the war and served as civilians in the women’s section of the army during the Blitz. Those people who were killed, for instance, in the Blitz will now also be remembered; those who were keeping things going while the soldiers were away also served their country. The innocent bystanders, the children, who were just trying to get on with their lives will now be remembered too.
Unlike Israel, in Britain where we don’t have a conscription army, there are still a multitude of ways to serve our country. It is so important, from this Remembrance Day onwards, we can now recognise and honour that.