See Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Martyrs’ and Remembrance Day in Jerusalem

As soon as Passover is over, the holiday preparations are well under way for celebrating the Yoms Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Haatzmaut in Jerusalem.

The Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Residence, is the site of multiple activities for Remembrance and Independence Days each year.

To start off a week of memorial events, Sunday morning was at Beit Hanasi.

Entering through the front gate past security, the state symbol of a menorah surrounded by olive branches is ready for celebrations of Israel at 75.

Beit Hanasi has hosted a Zikaron Basalon gathering since the Rivlins first invited the neighbors to share the more intimate setting to hear the testimony of a survivor.

The social initiative has taken off over the years with tens of thousands participating in private homes and other small group venues.

This year arriving early, I got to watch Kobi Oz and Yonatan Raizel rehearse their song on the program, “Suddenly Breathing.”

The main room at Beit Hanasi was arranged with the President and Michal Herzog with the main speaker and his wife at the front.

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 Albert Chen (Hayon), a Holocaust survivor from Tunis, shared his personal story, accompanied by his wife Giselle.

The two famous Israeli musicians were a bonus not usually found at the Zikaron Basalon events.

Kobi Oz performed his song “We Didn’t Have Anything”, which he dedicated to his mother, as he began she motioned with her finger in the air in agreement.

It was a meaningful event, especially seeing the honor and respect Kobi Oz paid to his survivor mother. How to reach younger generations as survivors pass on is the question, and music is one answer being suggested and offered at this event.

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The memorial flames are again on some public buildings.

The Israeli flags at Har Herzl Cemetery were already at half-mast as I went to Yad Vashem for the official state ceremony to open Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. Which was observed on April 17 – 18, 2023, with thousands of events throughout Israel.

The theme this year was Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust, marking 80 years since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Each year I try to arrive early to get through the layers of security to get to the Warsaw Ghetto Plaza where the televised program is held.

New this year there was the opportunity to light a memorial candle in the Hall of Remembrance before the start of the 8:00 pm program.

The room was surrounded by small flames from those candles as people slowly filed thru the large hall.

Chairs were set near the memorial flame to be used in the morning ceremony at Yad Vashem as the morning siren sounded.

A long list of dignitaries and Israeli government officials attend both ceremonies, as they do each year.

Special attention was given before the night program started to the arrival of Reza Pahlavi, the son of Iran’s former leader Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, here with MK Gila Gamliel.

Former President Reuven Rivlin greeted Pahlavi and commented on how much he looked like his father whom he met in 1978.

New IDF Chief of Staff Halevi also captured the photographers’ attention as he entered and proceeded to his seat.

Government ministers are seated in the front row, while the crowd goes back to the very rear of the plaza with guests, soldiers, and youth leaders.

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The Israeli President and Prime Minister spoke as they do each year. But there seemed to be more empty chairs in the first section, even though the weather was much warmer than usual.

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The honor guard stood at attention. Once a soldier fainted, fell, and was replaced during a televised video segment. Not this time.

A highlight of the evening is the lighting of the six memorial flames.

During the ceremony, Holocaust survivors are honored to light six torches. This year’s survivors were: first torch – Tova Gutstein; second torch – Ben-Zion Raisch; third torch – Judith Sohlberg;

fourth torch – Robert Bonfil; fifth torch – Efim Gimelshtein; sixth torch – Malka Rendel.

The stories of survival are always impressive. It is the only time that the entire audience of hundreds stops, listens,s and focuses on the screens. If you did not see them, I have attached the links above to Yad Vashem.

And at the end of the program, which ran smoothly this year, were the traditional prayers, ending the singing of HaTikvah.

El Maleh Rahamim was supposed to be by Efraim Mol, born in 1938, in a suburb of Brussels, Belgium. His long story of survival, from an orphanage to a French family, includes coming to Israel as a lone soldier. He worked in an Israeli defense industries factory and continued to serve in the IDF combat reserves, fighting in all of Israel’s wars until the First Lebanon War. After retiring, he became a sofer.

However, he was in the hospital, suffering a stroke after the rehearsal.

His son Yoel Mol and grandson were present and requested people that pray for him. However, Yad Vashem announced before Shabbat that Efraim Mol z”l had not recovered and passed away.

Yad Vashem was open during the day for free for visitors.

When Passover is over, every year, the Israeli flags go up

and out on the Jerusalem streets, as Jerusalem prepares for Yom HaZikaron followed by Yom Haatzmaut.

It’s that time of year, having to decide what to do first with so much happening on the Jerusalem streets.

Exciting to see so very many tourists here to help celebrate Israel at 75!

Jerusalem Streets are not Straight

Oh, what a week it was.

The Jerusalem streets are always bumpy with highs and lows, nothing seems to be straight or planned with logic. Maps and photos can not capture the topography of Jerusalem.

When the week and day start with the heaviest dust storm you have experienced, how nice it was to wander on the Jerusalem streets, just as the sun is beginning to set. The dust cloud lifting was a perfect opportunity to take a photo of the sun in the sky from a newly developed area in the Baka neighborhood.

I was on my way to a post-Passover Mimouna celebration (delayed for one night) with a gorgeous table laid out for the invited guests.

Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan Nahoum was a marvelous hostess! Her boundless energy greeted each person who arrived over several hours as if they were as important as the Mayor of Jerusalem who arrived late.

Flyover rehearsal for Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day was another favorite high of the week. New stunts are planned for this year!

The first time back to Har Herzl, after two long years for an event, I walked past the military cemetery on my way to Yad Vashem.

The official Israel State Opening Ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day took place on Wednesday, at 8:00 pm, in Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem, on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, Israel. 

The testimony videos are readily available on the Yad Vashem website and are highly recommended, with subtitles in Hebrew and English.

I decided to share with you behind-the-live camera scenes.

Leaders of the several international interfaith groups in attendance found

the atmosphere is different from watching on a screen alone from home.

It seemed to me that more international media was on site this year, after corona severely limited attendance to the ceremony for the past two years.

The faces of the torch lighters standing proud, each with a horrific story of their survival but beaming with the hope of future generations, are inspiring and uplifting, as seen here – Zvi Gill

The numbers of survivors decrease but young leaders and IDF groups are seated in the back each year. It is not common to see children attending, but David brought his young son to Yad Vashem for the powerful event.

In the large crowd, it was not possible to find them afterward for a comment or to find long-time friends from overseas in attendance.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s son and family seated in the center of the second row were a focus of the media.

Former President Reuven Rivlin met with and posed with some of the GPO photographers he spent time with over the years.

Former Prime Minister and now Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu made a much less dramatic and quieter entrance than in the past.

The IDF Honor Guard was back on stage standing at attention as usual.

The new Prime Minister and President of Israel made their entrance along with their wives and a few other Israeli officials with multiple cameras aimed close to their faces.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau lit the flame as he has done in the past.

The crowd watched the TV live stream broadcast projected on a screen.

I was able to get close to Naftali Bennett speaking for the first time as Prime Minister at the Yad Vashem ceremony.

How sad that Shmuel Blumenfeld z”l passed away after doing his video, two weeks before the ceremony, but his son Aryeh was present and lit the torch in his honor and memory.

Each year the survivors are assisted by a close relative, often a grandchild serving in the Israel Defense Force. Their faces show expressions of defiance and survival against incredible odds to move forward and rebuild their lives.

Before leaving the plaza, President Isaac and Michal Herzog went to speak with the honor guard after the ceremony ended.

Benjamin Netanyahu did also before making a quiet exit from the plaza.

Ayelet Shaked stopped for a photo with an admirer on her way out.

And Walter Bingham, 98 years young, standing straight and strong, a survivor originally from Germany, still working as a professional journalist, was honored with a special seat.

From the Yad Vashem entrance lit at night,

I walked down Har Herzl past the military cemetery entrance again, where Israeli flags had been lowered to half-mast for Yom HaShoah.

Further, on the way home, I passed the blue and white lights and flags that were ready for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut to follow this week.

The crowd always stands at the end of the official opening Yom HaShoah commemoration in Jerusalem, Israel to sing HaTikvah – The Hope.

The Jerusalem streets are not straight, but there is always hope.

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 5780

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 5780

From Jerusalem, Israel, on Monday,  April 20, 2020, at 8:00 pm (Israel time), the official Opening Ceremony for Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 5780 will be broadcast from Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem on the Mount of Remembrance, on Yad Vashem’s website and Facebook page.

Following the advice of psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, in his autobiography “Man’s Search for Meaning” – “What matters is to make the best of any given situation.”

This year the ceremony was pre-recorded without an audience due to restrictions of the pandemic coronavirus COVID19.

Stage at Yad Vashem for Yom HaShoah with memorial flame lit

The ceremony will comprise traditional elements, including prerecorded video remarks by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Naomi Cassuto will speak on behalf of the survivors. 

Yad Vashem Council Chairman and Holocaust survivor Rabbi Israel Meir Lau will kindle the Memorial Torch as he has done many times in the past.

Rabbi Y M Lau pointing to himself as a child in large photo in Yad Vashem

 In this photo, the Rabbi is pointing to himself as a child soon after liberation, sitting with a group of US army soldiers and other Jewish survivors. 

Survivors and young relative lighting flame at Yad Vashem on Yom HaShoah

During the ceremony, six traditional memorial torches will be lit.

The stories of six Holocaust survivors featured this year are the following: the first torch– Zohar Arnon– second– Aviva Blum-Wachs; third–Haim Arbiv; fourth- Leah Reuveni; fifth–Avraham Carmi; and sixth– Yehuda Beilis

Lighting memorial flame at Yad Vashem on Yom HaShoah

In the past, a child or grandchild assisted each torch lighter,

Light a torch at Yad Vashem for Yom HaShoah

often wearing an IDF uniform. Frankl’s words: ‘to turn from tragedy and suffering to human achievement and accomplishment’ are exemplified in the faces of those lighting the memorial torches.

Israeli singers Shiri Maimon and Shai Tzabari will participate in the ceremony, which will also include narrative pieces written by Holocaust survivor Jack Weber, and recited by Israeli actor Zohar Straus. The MC for the ceremony will be Danny Cushmaro. 

The ceremony will feature the traditional memorial service, including the recitation of a chapter from Psalms by Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi David Lau. The Rishon LeZion, Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef will recite the mourner’s Kaddish, and Cantor Daniel Dahan will recite El Maleh Rahamim, the Jewish prayer for the souls of the martyrs.

To mark Holocaust Remembrance Day this year, when public gatherings have been banned in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak worldwide, Yad Vashem has asked the public to participate in an international campaign to record themselves reciting the names of Holocaust victims, and share the video on social media using the hashtags #RememberingFromHome #ShoahNames.

Yom Hashoa victims photos at Yad Vashem

“Join us and mark Holocaust Remembrance Day this year from your homes,” said Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev. “Help us to restore the memory of those murdered during the Holocaust, as you do each and every year. Although the circumstances this year are unique, the message is still the same: We will never forget their names.”

Photographs are from RJS previous visits to Yad Vashem.

For the ceremony when Shimon Peres was President click here.

Background noise interfered with our recording in the private room where the torch lighters and their invited family members gathered before the ceremony. It was a very different feeling than the ominous silence during the short videos presented during the ceremony relating each of the survivor stories. In this room, this gathering felt more like a party. A celebration. A triumph of good over evil. We survived. Proudly, see what we have accomplished.

Behind the scenes with RJS in 2016 click here.

To conclude, HaTikvah from last year

The Hope for better times ahead for all.

Never Again.

#RememberingFromHome #ShoahNames.