Some Facebook users have recently been posting things like, “I thought Yom HaZikaron was last month” or “Yom HaZikaron again so soon?” as their statuses. It’s not because they don’t know that Israel’s Memorial Day takes place the day before Israel’s Independence Day, but rather because of all the “Yizkor” candle icons they have been seeing on their social media newsfeeds.
These icons are for a link to a petition protesting a proposed change to the wording of the remembrance prayer recited at IDF memorial ceremonies. Tens of thousands of Israeli citizens, many of them bereaved parents like Yehudit Bialer, the author of the petition, are up in arms against the possible switching of “Israel remembers its sons and daughters” to “God remembers His sons and daughters.” As Philologos discusses in his column this week, the commonly used “Israel” version dates to early the early independence era and uses text for the prayer written by Zionist intellectual leader Berl Katznelson in 1920.
Yehudit Bialer, the mother of Yoram Bialer, who fell in 1969 at the age of 21 during the War of Attrition with Egypt, begins her petition with, “It is important for me to know that the nation to which he belonged and which he loved, will remember him. Neither Yoram nor I have any relationship with God. Therefore, I vehemently oppose the changing of the wording “The nation of Israel remembers…”
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reportedly sparked the controversy and public outcry by ordering the exclusive use of “God remembers,” which he says dates to official IDF General Staff orders from 1967. Ynet reports that Gantz denies that he issued any such order. However, in response to the anger expressed from many quarters, he has called for a special committee, likely to include representatives from the Military Rabbinate, IDF Personnel Directorate, and several civilian delegates from various interest groups, to decide the matter. Bereaved families have already issued a demand for the final decision, because of its sensitive nature, to be approved by the Ministry of Defense.
Eli Ben-Shem, director of the Yad Lebanim memorial organization has suggested that perhaps the prayer could use both terms, that both “God and the people of Israel remember” the fallen. This sounds like a reasonable compromise, but he’ll have a tough time selling it to the more than 57,000 people who have signed Bialer’s petition in the past few days, and to the Israeli public so polarized along religious lines.