Israeli Memorial Day: Praying in Traffic

E-mail Reena Ninan

The light turned green but the car in front of me refused to move.

I was seconds away from honking when I noticed the driver getting out of his car. The woman down the street did the same. Traffic at the intersection stopped. The entire street was suddenly dotted with people standing next to their cars. All of them had their heads bowed.

I turned down the music on my car radio. It was then that I finally heard the loud siren echoing throughout Israel. This wasn’t a warning about an imminent attack on the country. It wasn’t a sign to evacuate. This was how Israelis commemorate Memorial Day.

After last summer’s war with Lebanon, many Israelis say that this year’s Memorial Day has a special meaning. More than 100 Israeli soldiers and around 40 civilians lost their lives in that war.

There are daily reminders that the tension here continues to mount.

This weekend, Palestinian militants launched homemade Kassam rockets hitting an Israeli house. No one was killed; only some were left with minor injuries. Israelis retaliated with an air strike. Nine Palestinians were killed, including a 17-year-old girl. There are reports out of Gaza that leaflets were dropped throughout the city, warning locals not to work with militants involved in launching these attacks. They also warned that if the attacks do not stop in 48 hours there were plans to launch an Israeli military operation. The Israeli army denied that the leaflets were dropped.

The day after Memorial Day is Independence Day, when Israel will celebrate its 59 years of freedom. I couldn’t help but think how Memorial Day is back in the U.S. Usually, the day is marked as the first day of the season, when you can fire up the barbeque. But for Israelis, putting these two holidays back to back is deliberate. As one Israeli man told me, there is a very fine line between Memorial Day, remembering those who lost their lives for Israel, and Independence, the achievement of a Jewish state.

But not every Israeli feels like celebrating. While 80 percent of the population is Jewish, the remainder is largely Arab. A 20-year-old Palestinian boy offered his thoughts on the day,

“I am a child of the intifada. This day means nothing.”

The sirens went off for two minutes and the traffic picked back up. The blue and white Israeli national flags, proudly hanging out some car windows this week, began fluttering in the wind again.

E-mail Reena Ninan

Here's what some FOX Fans are saying:

"Dear Reena, Wow! I just found out about you and your reports. Thank you for all the time you must put into getting the news and then putting it in writing so succinctly. I am of Dutch descent, and stand in a strong tradition of people who love the nation of God. Reading your article today choked me up and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you." — Pastor Russ (Bushkill, PA)

"I really like your stories, broadcast and printed. I am sure you'll be great as FOX's new Middle East correspondent. Best of luck." — Ralph

"Thank you, Reena, for your lovely story about Israel's Memorial and Independence Days. I have been to Israel several times, most recently last year for two months, and I have found myself there more than once, during these two holidays. Thanks for bringing back beautiful memories of The Land." — Madelyn

"Ms. Ninan, Thank you for your article. I appreciate articles like this, which can't help but influence some of us in the U.S. to 'compare and contrast.' To me, our Memorial Day in late May is 'sacred.' It saddens me when I see our public schools not allowing it as a holiday. With the kind of homage being paid in Israel, one would conclude that in that country freedom and democracy are valued as highly as those who gave their lives defending it." — Jim (Waco, TX)

REENA: Good points Jim. It's also worth noting that since 2003, the start of the Iraq war, 3,325 American military personnel have died in Iraq. Since last Memorial Day 918 have lost their lives.

"Dear Reena, I spent a little over three months studying in Jerusalem. I was there near the end of April. How could I have missed this? Have people always stopped to pray like this in Israel, at this time of year? Apparently there is much about Israel I have yet to learn. Thank you for your informative report from Israel." — Jon

REENA: Hi Jon, Thanks for your email. As you probably know all too well from your time here in Jerusalem, people love to honk especially if you don't floor it when the light turns green. Lots of impatient drivers. So stopping traffic to get out of the car and observe a moment of silence is reserved only for Memorial Day.

"Reena, I loved your article about the Memorial Day in Israel. However, I think that once Israel should be mentioned without connecting it to the Palestinians and the conflict with them, especially when discussing such a sensitive topic like Memorial Day. I would mention however, the continuous pray and hope of the Israelis for peace. Let the world know that even though we have a conflict with our neighbors, our hand is still sent forward for peace." — Ayelet

REENA: Hello Ayelet, You touch on an interesting point. When I wrote the blog, I did contemplate whether I should leave out the Palestinian boy. But Memorial Day and Independence Day are also difficult days for some Palestinians. For the Arab Israelis or the Palestinians in Israel, Independence Day is considered "al Nakbah" or catastrophe. For them, it is hard to forget their suffering especially since hundreds of thousands were forced to leave their houses when Israel was established. They actually mark this day every year on May 15. Thanks for your email.

"You talk about the people who lost their lives in Israel. How about a report on all the people who lost their lives because of Israel? I'm sure Lebanese civilians and soldiers were killed as well. In fact, I remember when Israel hit a school last year killing the children inside." — Anand

REENA: Hi Anand, Check out my response to Ayelet.

"I'm sure you would agree the Middle East is nice this time of year. Don't you think? I hope you come on back to Iraq." — Lt. Matthew

REENA: Hey Matthew, Thanks for that. Iraq is a fascinating place and an important story. Best of luck to you. Stay safe. God bless.

Reena Ninan is FOX News Channel's new Middle East correspondent. Before coming to Jerusalem, Reena joined the NYC bureau of FNC as an on-air correspondent in March 2006. Click over to read her full bio.