It was 21 years ago that I was in Israel for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut for the first time. We arrived after a March of the Living trip to Poland and a visit to Auschwitz on Hitler’s birthday.
Terrorists were blowing up buses on the Jerusalem, Israel, streets in 2001. Our group was sent to Arad and Beer Sheva instead of Jerusalem, which was thought to be too dangerous during those Intifada days.
The irony – after traveling by bus through Poland, and then being afraid of walking the Jerusalem streets, its buses, and eateries!
On Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, we remembered 24,068 Israeli soldiers who fell in battle and the 4,216 civilians who were murdered by terrorists.
To begin the busy week, The Michael Levin Base had a Sefer Torah dedication Monday night with former Ambassador Ron Dermer the featured speaker. These Torah covers were made specially from the tallis bag Harriet Levin had made for her son fallen soldier, Michael Levin z”l.
“You can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare to risk it all” he had stated.
The official opening state ceremony is held annually at the Kotel, Western Wall Plaza, with the President of Israel speaking the lighting of a memorial torch with an honor guard, it is similar each year.
However, there are also thousands of smaller community ceremonies held throughout the country and by various groups. For the past two years, Covid severely limited all the major large community commemorations. The ceremony in Arad was well done and still, a vivid memory of a community united in mourning their fallen soldiers.
This year we attended an English event at Givat Tachmoshet, Ammunition Hill, led by The Michael Levin Base and supported by Norman Blaustein, in memory of his wife Sarah z’l who was murdered over 20 years ago. A terrorist sprayed their car with bullets, on an Israeli highway on the way to Jerusalem. One-shot to the back of her head was fatal. She had made aliyah nine months before.
A total of 28,284 men, women, and children have been killed in terrorist attacks and in defense of the Land of Israel since 1860, the year that the first Jewish settlers left the secure walls of Jerusalem to build new Jewish neighborhoods.
Since the last Memorial Day, 56 new names have been added to the roster of those who died defending the country.
A memorial siren sounds at night and again in the morning. There are official events at Har Herzl most of the day with families of soldiers and in communities throughout Israel as well.
This year the Netanyahus attended the program at the school where Sara works. In many Jerusalem neighborhoods, a ceremony was held at the local memorial site with the names of fallen residents.
Memorial Day ended on Wednesday evening, ushering in Israel’s 74th Independence Day with a multitude of live events with music and dancing.
Musical prayer services public and private could be heard walking along the Jerusalem streets after sunset ending the day of mourning.
Examples of the Blue and White themed plastic boppers, balloons, and glowing headbands were available for sale at First Station.
The musical prayer service attracted a huge crowd, while next to it at First Station the annual main event from Har Herzl’s live broadcast was seen.
People coming and going, and the crowd was so large it was hard to find friends. There were too many Jerusalem large events to attend, they included fireworks, and live musical entertainment, with some lasting all night long.
Annually at Beit Hanasi, the President’s Official Residence, the military honors start the daytime events, while in many synagogues the Hallel prayer is added to the morning service.
For thousands of Israelis, a highlight of Yom Haatzmaut is watching the Tanach Chidon or International Youth Bible Quiz on television.
This was the first time I was able to attend the annual and popular event held at the Jerusalem Theater, and fortunate to be there for the exciting finish. It ended with a tie between two young Israelis. The US representative came in third – first for the Diaspora communities.
The President, Prime Minister, and Jerusalem Mayor were honored to ask a question, but, the event is under Education Minister Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton who was escorted to the stage to speak.
The full recorded broadcast is available online if you want to check your knowledge with that of these impressive youngsters.
I want to add this audience was the most enthusiastic, yet respectful group I have seen, they and we should all be proud.
In the afternoon the annual President’s Diplomatic Reception was back again after the corona limitations of the past two years,
with the traditional photos of representatives of international armed forces,
and religious leaders based in Israel in attendance.
At the colorful event, I love the military hats on the table as in the past.
New this year was the new Israeli President and Michal Herzog hosting, and featuring a variety of Israeli boutique wineries,
and cheese adorned with miniature Blue and White flags.
Ladies dressed in traditional costumes and men in uniform also enjoyed the Israeli ice cream cones or cups offered at the afternoon reception.
I noticed, as always, the diversity of the attendees,
and the large flags near the outdoor stage,
and wished I could have indulged in more wine with the diplomats who were hosted at Beit Hanasi.
But I wanted to get to the Jerusalem International Conference Center for the Israel Prize ceremony. This was the only decent image I could get. This was one event I should have stayed home and watched live on TV. It was much different than in past years when the live crowd filled the big auditorium.
Walking there thru Gan Sacher, Sacher Park, where people were enjoying family get-togethers on Yom Haatzmaut, some of the smallest flags were the cutest and I did see long time friends, so it was worth the time.
Much more happened this past week, but I will conclude with a brief quote from Dermer’s exceptional remarks which I hope to share in full soon.
“The Torah gives us purpose. Israel gives us power.
Purpose without power is a lethal combination…
But power without purpose also cannot secure the Jewish future. The mightiest of Empires and the greatest of civilizations have crumbled when their people lost their way when they lost their sense of purpose.”
The intense week of the Yoms, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Haatzmaut, with its extremes of highs and lows has concluded.
The Power of the IDF and the Purpose of the Torah were exemplified this week, and hopefully, we will continue together to build and celebrate Israel at 75 next year in Jerusalem.