Every year in Israel, on the day of Holocaust remembrance, something happens that shows how deeply many Israelis still feel both the pain of the Holocaust and the power of honoring its survivors. Sirens go off across the country, and people — wherever they are, whatever they're doing — stop and stand. That includes, as the above 2014 video posted by the Jewish Standard shows, people driving their cars on the highway.
The official name of this date in Hebrew is Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG'vurah, meaning Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and Heroism, a reference to the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The name is often shortened to Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. It typically occurs in late April or early May, begins at sunset, and continues through the next day. This year, it begins on Wednesday evening. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz described some of the annual acts of remembrance last year:
Coffee shops, restaurants, theaters and stores, by law, shut as darkness began to fall. Gyms closed, playgrounds emptied out, meetings wrapped up, lights were turned off in office buildings, and TV and radio stations all switched over to special Holocaust programming.
In Jerusalem, at the annual state ceremony - which takes place at the Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes Authority - the national flag was lowered to half-mast. Six Holocaust survivors then lit six torches, and the chief rabbis recited prayers.
What you are seeing in this video is the annual mid-morning siren on the day of Yom HaShoah, during which all activity stops for two minutes. It is an act of respect, for both the victims and the heroes of the Holocaust, and in a sense it is an act of duty. There is something even more than remembrance happening for people to stop their cars in the street, get out, and stand in silence.
As I have written previously, Israel's relationship to the Holocaust is commonly misunderstood, particularly by the country's critics. The idea of Israel is in part an answer to a sense of existential insecurity among the world's Jews, but that has been true since decades before the Holocaust occurred, and it will remain true many years after the last survivors pass away of old age. To reduce this to the Holocaust alone would be to understate both the threats that Jews have faced and the degree to which the aspirations of salvation for the Jewish people are still, for many Israelis, not yet fully secured.
That Israelis perform this ritual of Yom HaShoah every year is, yes, an act of remembering the horrors of the Holocaust and of honoring those who fought against it. But it is more than that, as well, and without understanding those larger forces — and the power with which they are felt by many Israelis, whether they personally know a Holocaust survivor or not — you cannot understand Israelis' views of their nation, its mission, and why it matters.