December 13, 2018

Charedi Reticence on Yom HaZikaron

Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters.

We have just concluded what is commonly referred to as the “Israeli High Holidays.” Beginning with Passover and extending to Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), the onslaught envelops us in a bewildering mix of extreme emotions: excitement, solemn reflection, grief and jubilation, to name only a few.

However, being cognizant of the many voices and narratives that make up Israeli society, I realize that this time of year is not celebrated or venerated equally by all Israeli citizens and probably should be known as the “Israeli Jewish Zionist High Holidays.” That said, the fact that many of of Israel’s Jewish citizens ignore the nation’s day of remembrance for Israel’s fallen military personnel causes me great pain. In fact, I am taken aback by the extent to which it continues to be so hurtful to me and so many others.

Perhaps it is because this communal blindness is something that I refuse to accept, and I hold out hope that the coming year will be different than years past, only to be disappointed over and over when so little seems to change. To be specific, my pain is rooted in a deep belief that “Jews are responsible for one another,” that when the nation of Israel is crying, it is only natural that we would all mourn together.

As such, it is so hurtful that Israel’s Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) population would refuse to acknowledge our public sorrow year after year. I had hoped that, as religious Jews, they would elevate the torment of a fellow Jew above all else, even their own feelings of alienation.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

When sirens blare across the country to honor Israel’s 23,645 fallen soldiers, traffic stops on all major roadways and Israelis of all backgrounds stand at attention. Inevitably, amid this public display of mourning, some Charedim repeatedly are seen continuing on their way, as if they hear nothing. In private, most Charedi yeshivot continue their learning unabated, delving into the same subject matter as the day before, as though nothing was happening outside. (I wonder what Torah they are studying if it makes them incapable of noticing what is going on outside?)

At our military cemeteries, parents, widows and orphans pour their hearts out to the loved ones they lost surrounded by hundreds of Israelis, who offer words of consolation for their great loss and gratitude for their tremendous sacrifice. At military bases, community centers, schools and synagogues across the country, thousands of Israelis of all ages participate in beautifully orchestrated ceremonies that delve deep into the personalities of the brave men and women who gave their lives to protect the Jewish state, internalizing the pain as though these heroes were members of their own families. Unfortunately, the Charedim who attend these events are the exception rather than the rule, so much so that when Charedim are spotted, it is reported widely by local and international news outlets.

This distresses me so profoundly because it is simply not the Jewish way.

As the Rambam writes in “Hilchot Teshuva” [Laws of Repentance]: “A person who separates himself from the community even though he has not transgressed any sins, does not take part in their hardships or join in their communal fasts … he does not have a portion in the World to Come.”

It is important to note that the Rambam, who is rather exacting with his word selection, chose to insert the word “hardships.” It’s clear to me that this addition was intended to highlight future times of grieving that were not already on the calendar. In his wisdom, the Rambam knew to warn us that there would be times for empathy beyond preordained times such as Tisha b’Av, opportunities to model our uniquely Jewish compassion by throwing our lots in with our brethren in turmoil.

Throughout Israel’s Charedi neighborhoods, Yom HaZikaron was treated like just any other day of the year.

While the “Zionist state” is not something that the Charedi population endorsed, and it is certainly not the “return to the land” that they had dreamed of, it is excruciating to see their lack of external solidarity to Jewish grieving.

Of course, the way in which they go about showing such solidarity is up to them. Perhaps they could leverage their own traditional methods to acknowledge the torment being experienced by thousands of Jews across the country on Yom HaZikaron. They can learn Torah in memory of the soldiers who gave their lives to keep the country safe or recite Psalms and pray for the relief of the families who are in such immense pain. The key is making it clear that Jewish pain and loss are not invisible.

While there are very few actual guidelines for building a synagogue, the Talmud in Tractate Berachot (34b) teaches that a synagogue’s sanctuary must be built with windows. The reasoning, of course, is that it is impossible to be a truly pious servant of God if you are disinterested in what is going on “outside” in the lives of your fellow Jews, and there is no prayer if you never look beyond your own four walls to see the other. In this case, the Talmud isn’t teaching us about structural integrity and fire safety, it is providing us with the cornerstone for religious living, national integrity and communal safety.

As the dean of humanities at Ono Academic College, an institution that facilitates diversity and inclusion in higher education, I attest every day to Israel’s beauty in its “manyness” and messiness. Although complex at times, our diversity is a great source of strength, and every group has the right to live a life of integrity that falls in line with their ethics, standards and worldview.

As such, there is nothing wrong with the Charedi population creating communities that reflect its particular values. I also wholeheartedly support public government funding of the private Charedi school system, as everyone has a right to receive an education in their own way. I take issue only with the invisibility of communal pain in the private lives of Charedi citizens and their institutions. In my religious worldview, this is a sin.

Unfortunately, this year played out like every year before it. Throughout Israel’s Charedi neighborhoods, Yom HaZikaron was treated like just any other day of the year. No mourning, no gratitude, no change. In the “halachic world,” this errant behavior cannot stand.

We can only hope that by next year, individual acts of kindness (like the video of the Charedi high school teacher conducting a memorial ceremony of his own making with his class, this year’s top viral video for Yom HaZikaron) will become the norm, so much so that the local and international news outlets no longer see a need to report about Charedi participation. Indeed, Israelis are starving for this kind of recognition.

And we must have faith that there will be a communal recognition of the tremendous sacrifices made by our fallen soldiers and a true structuring of empathy, a decision regarding how the Charedi community will mark the day in their own heartfelt and visceral way. That, after all, is the Jewish way.

Seeing as we begin the springtime holiday period with Passover asking, “How is this night different from all other nights?” I wish the Charedi community would ask a similar question toward the end of the period for Yom HaZikaron: “How is this day different from all other days?” and extend Passover’s central directive to Yom HaZikaron as well: “And you shall tell your children …”

Tova Hartman is a scholar and author. She currently serves as the dean of humanities at Ono Academic College, the fastest growing institute of higher education in Israel.

What’s Happening in Jewish L.A. April 13-19: Wisdom and Wellness Events and More

"Bye Bye Germany"

FRI APRIL 13
“BYE BYE GERMANY”

Set in Frankfurt in 1946, this comedy-drama follows a Jewish man who recruits friends from a displaced person’s camp to sell linens at inflated prices to unsuspecting Germans, so they can raise enough money to leave Germany for the United States. Peppered with Yiddish flavor and wit, the film tells the story of the Jewish men and woman whose grit enables them to succeed against all odds in post-World War II Germany. Various times. $12 general, Monday-Thursday; $13 general, Friday-Sunday. Laemmle Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. Laemmle Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836. laemmle.com.

FATHER PATRICK DESBOIS

Father Patrick DeBois.

Father Patrick Desbois, president and founder of Yahad-In Unum, an organization that has identified mass graves of Jews killed by Nazi mobile killing units, is the special guest at the Beverly Hills Synagogue Yom HaShoah dinner. His appearance follows the January publication of his new book, “In Broad Daylight: The Secret Procedures Behind the Holocaust by Bullets,” a follow-up to his acclaimed “The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews.” 7:30-9 p.m. $50 young professionals, $75 Beverly Hills Synagogue members, $85 general. Beverly Hills Synagogue, 9261 Alden Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 278-7650. beverlyhillssynagogue.org.

SUN APRIL 15
AMOTH YOM HASHOAH COMMEMORATION

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) holds its annual communitywide Yom HaShoah commemoration in Pan Pacific Park, focusing on Jewish resistance during the Holocaust and marking the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Survivors, their children and grandchildren, as well as community members of all backgrounds, come together for a day of remembrance. The program begins with “A Tale of Two Families,” a conversation between reunited Holocaust survivors Alice Gerstel Weit and Simon Gronowski. Nancy Rubin, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, delivers the keynote speech. From 10 a.m.-5 p.m., docents lead hourly tours of the museum, including a new exhibit focused on the uprisings in camps and ghettos during the Holocaust. Noon, “A Tale of Two Families”; 2 p.m., commemoration ceremony. Free. Pan Pacific Park, 7600 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704. lamoth.org.

“JEWISH WISDOM AND WELLNESS”

More than 80 events, lectures and workshops highlight this festival of learning on Jewish wisdom and its impact on well-being. On Sunday, Madeleine Brand of KCRW-FM’s “Press Play,” moderates “Hear Her, Heal Her: A Jewish Conversation about Women’s Health,” featuring Dr. Beth Karlan of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Rabbis Jaclyn Cohen, Dara Frimmer and Susan Goldberg. Then, over the course of two weeks, additional gatherings include: “Zumba for the Jewish Soul; “We Love Each Other — And It Still Takes Work: Healthy Communication in Interfaith and Intercultural Jewish Families”; Mental Health Shabbat;  “Women’s Mitzvot With Rabbanit Alissa, Rabba Ramie and Ms. Atara Segal”; “The Letters of Your Name: A Journey to Your Soul”; “T’Shuvah: A Jewish Response to the Opioid Epidemic”; “The Complex Inner World of Jewish Teens in a #MeToo World”; “Gratitude: The Healing Power of Giving Thanks”; and “Songs and Yoga Poses of Peace.” On April 29, the closing concert, “Shir Joy: A Taste of L.A. Jewish Music,” honors the memory of songwriter Debbie Friedman and features performers Julie Silver, the Nefesh Band, Hillel Tigay and Friends, and others. Organized by the Kalsman Institute, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Through April 29. Various times. Free. Various locations. For additional information, visit jewishwisdomandwellness.org.

GLOBAL GOOD DEEDS DAY

Get your hands dirty at the Shemesh Organic Farm, located on the Camp JCA Shalom campus in Malibu. Spend time with residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home’s Eisenberg Village, embellishing and filling flowerpots to spruce up their home for spring. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles coordinates a day of giving back at six of its local social service partners: Baby2Baby, ETTA, L.A. Family Housing, Los Angeles Jewish Home, Rosie’s Foundation and Shemesh Organic Farm. Volunteers of all ages are welcome at the organic farm, while the other projects have minimum age requirements. Baby2Baby: 10 a.m.-noon; ETTA: 1-3 p.m.; L.A. Family Housing: 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; Los Angeles Jewish Home: 9:30-11:30 a.m.; Rosie’s Foundation: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; Shemesh Organic Farm: 10 a.m.-noon. Free. Advance registration required. Various locations. For more information, visit jewishla.org.

BRUNCH WITH HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS

In observance of Yom HaShoah, the Persian-Jewish congregation Nessah honors the survivors of the Shoah. Attendees at this brunch meet, greet and serve the survivors from their communities. In partnership with the iCare Foundation, which teaches youth to care through action. All ages welcome. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. $10 donation per person. Nessah Congregation, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400. nessah.org.

TEMPLE INSTALLATION

Last summer, Temple B’nai Hayim and Congregation Beth Meir, two Conservative synagogues in the San Fernando Valley, entered a formal agreement to become a single congregation. On Sunday, the congregations celebrate the formal installation of Rabbi Richard A. Flom and Rabbi/Chazzan Jason van Leeuwen. Come take part as the joined communities celebrate with music, a lunch buffet, desserts, beverages and a silent auction. 2-5 p.m. $54. Temple B’nai Hayim, 4302 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 788-4664. bnaihayim.com.

“WOMEN FOR WOMEN”

Sharsheret, a nonprofit organization supporting young Jewish women facing breast cancer, holds “Women for Women: Breast Cancer Support and Prevention for Every Age,” an informative and empowering evening where sisters, daughters, mothers and friends learn how to revamp their diet and boost their immune system, how to understand the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and how to support family and friends. Speakers are Beller Nutritional Institute CEO Rachel Beller, Sharsheret Support Program Consultant Shera Dubitsky and Dr. Taaly Silberstein, an OBGYN at Providence Tarzana Medical Center. Part of the “Jewish Wisdom and Wellness: A Festival of Learning” series. 7:30-9 p.m. Free. Bais Yaakov, 7353 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 409-2300. sharsheret.org/womenforwomen.

MON APRIL 16
“RABIN: IN HIS OWN WORDS”

“Rabin: In His Words”

In this 2016 documentary, Erez Laufer, a veteran film editor in the United States and his native Israel (“The War Room,” “My Country, My Country”), shows the private and political sides of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the kibbutznik who evolved from commander of Israel’s armed forces during the Six-Day War into a leading advocate of peace with his country’s enemies. The film relies only on Rabin’s own voice and writings, without interviewing any of his former friends or foes. 6:30 p.m. Free. UCLA, Haines Hall, Room 220. (310) 825-9646. international.ucla.edu/israel/home.

TUE APRIL 17
YOM HAZIKARON NIGHT OF REMEMBRANCE

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Temple of the Arts and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles hold their fourth annual Yom HaZikaron Community-Wide Night of Remembrance in honor of the memory of Israel’s fallen soldiers. Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg delivers remarks. 6:45-8:45 p.m. Free. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 658-9100. bhtota.org.

“STRIVE CLASS: THE UNIVERSAL VS. THE TRIBAL”

It’s human nature to look inward to affirm our dignity and right to security. But sometimes humans are compelled to enact a vision for society defined by justice and equity for all. How do we balance our tribal needs with our universal values? Join a Strive Class with Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, who discusses the tension built into human existence: when to focus on ourselves and when to care for others. Also April 24 and May 1. 7 p.m. Free; reservations required. Space limited. Private residence; address given upon reservation. (310) 288-3737. tebh.org/striveclass.

WED APRIL 18
“OCCUPATION? WHAT OCCUPATION? ISRAEL AN OCCUPYING FORCE?”

Mordechai Kedar, who has forged a reputation for defending Israel in interviews with Al Jazeera, the BBC, France 24, U.S.-based Arab-language TV channel Alhurra and others, talks about Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. $5. 7 p.m. JEM Community Center, 9930 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (213) 254-3162 or (310) 275-2877. rebekahs@standwithus.com.

DEBATING “THE FRAGILE DIALOGUE”

Congregation Kol Ami hosts a panel discussion on “The Fragile Dialogue: New Voices in Liberal Zionism,” a new collection of essays that explores the diverse perspectives of the progressive Jewish community on Israel and Zionism. Kol Ami’s founding rabbi, Rabbi Denise L. Eger, moderates the panel. Participants include the book’s co-editor, Rabbi Stanley M. Davids, and three of the book’s contributors, Joshua David Holo, dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and rabbinical students Max Chaiken and Eric Rosenstein. A book-signing follows the panel, with copies of “The Fragile Dialogue” available for purchase. 7 p.m. Free. RSVP at reception@kol-ami.org. Congregation Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Ave., West Hollywood. (323) 606-0996. kol-ami.org.

THU APRIL 19
“BATTLE OF THE WARSAW GHETTO”

“The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto,” a radio play that first aired on NBC in December 1943, marks the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when residents of the Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Warsaw staged an armed revolt against Nazi deportations to extermination camps, the most significant act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Directed by Temple Beth Emet of Burbank Rabbi Mark Sobel. 7 p.m. Free. City of Burbank Community Services Building, Room No. 104, 150 N. Third St., Burbank. (818) 860-2472. templebethemet.com.

“MY SON THE WAITER”

Brad Zimmerman.

“Did you know in Jewish tradition, a fetus is not considered viable till after it graduates from medical school?” Playwright Brad Zimmerman stars in his comedy about the grit and passion it takes to succeed as an artist. The New York Times wrote, “Delicious! Distinctly original and powerfully poignant. … Great comedy!” 3 and 8 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Through June 10. Tickets start at $45. The Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. mysonthewaiter.com.

L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF CANDIDATES FORUM

Meet the candidates for the chief law enforcement officer for Los Angeles County and learn about the duties of the position. Candidates include retired sheriff’s Lt. Alex Villanueva; retired sheriff’s Cmdr. Robert (Bob) Lindsey; and incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell. Free. 7:30-10:30 p.m. Hollywood Temple Beth El, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 656-3150. eventbrite.com.

Moving and Shaking: Yom HaAtzmaut, Yom HaZikaron and Foster Mother’s Day

The May 11 Yom HaAtzmaut reception held by Israel’s consulate in Los Angeles took on a bittersweet air — not just because it followed Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day, but also because it was a de facto goodbye party for Consul General David Siegel.

The celebration, held at the Skirball Cultural Center, was the outgoing consul’s final Independence Day celebration in Los Angeles after five years of service here.

Before the ceremony, guests lined up to take pictures with Siegel. 

Among those spotted at the event were Stuart Steinberg (father of fallen Israel Defense Forces soldier Max Steinberg); philanthropist and co-founder of the Israeli-American Council Adam Milstein; German Consul General in Los Angeles Hans Jorg Neumann; Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles Nasimi Aghayev; Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the longtime executive director at UCLA’s Hillel, and his wife, psychologist Doreen Seidler-Feller; City Attorney Mike Feuer; and Los Angeles City Councilmen David Ryu, Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz.

A host of dignitaries took the stage to pay tribute to Siegel and to toast Israel on its 68th birthday, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Beverly Hills City Councilman Julian Gold and West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister. A trio of Israeli singers, including Kathleen Reiter, the first winner of Israel’s “The Voice” television competition, provided musical entertainment.

Taking the stage last, after a surprise video tribute, Siegel recalled how he arrived in Los Angeles five years ago hoping to “share the real Israel with all of you.” He noted some encouraging signs from his tenure. For example, he recounted that when he arrived, UC Irvine was a “stark symbol” of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Now, UCI has partnerships with a number of Israeli universities, he said.

He pointed to a bill currently under consideration in California’s legislature as a sign that “support for Israel is deep, is strong and is bipartisan.”

Speakers did not fail to pay respects to the evening’s nominal star: the State of Israel. “It’s such a pleasure to be here to celebrate one of my favorite birthdays — of a nation both older than my oldest ancestor and younger than my mother,” Garcetti said.

Uri Herscher, the Skirball’s president, offered a personal account of the birth of the Jewish state 68 years ago, when he was 7 years old. “I had never stayed up until midnight, but my father did not want me to miss the glorious moment” when Israel came into being, he said.

He added, “[Those memories] move me even now after all these years more than ever.”

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


IDF Sgt. Miles Rubin lighting yahrzeit (memorial) candles to honor Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Photo by Justin Kenderes

For about 60 seconds on the evening of May 10, more than 1,000 Angelenos at the Saban Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard were transported to Israel by the sound of air raid sirens.

The crowd that gathered to commemorate Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day, silently rose to its feet when the mournful wail came over the theater’s sound system, mimicking the custom observed each year in Israel.

“This is no longer just an Israeli observance,” said Rabbi David Baron of Temple of the Arts, which makes its home at the Saban in Beverly Hills. The congregation co-hosted the event with the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces Western Region and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The ceremony celebrated the sacrifice of 23,447 fallen Israeli soldiers and terror victims since the state’s founding, including 47 Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers and 32 civilians slain this year.

Baron’s remarks followed a video address from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. After Rivlin’s speech, a host of community leaders and visiting dignitaries took the stage to light 18 memorial candles. Among those called up were Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Miles Rubin, a “lone soldier” who emigrated to Israel to serve in the IDF, and Leehy Shaer, whose nephew, Gilad Shaer, was kidnapped and killed in 2014 by Hamas operatives along with two other Israeli yeshiva students, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach.

The candles remained onstage as the lights went dark for a screening of “Our Boys,” a 2015 documentary produced by Moriah Films, a division of the Wiesenthal Center. The film is about the three Israeli yeshiva students who were killed and features extensive interviews with the boys’ parents.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


From left: Ashley Williams, volunteer with Foster Care Counts; Jeanne Pritzker, founder of Foster Care Counts; U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass; Jennifer Perry of Children’s Action Network; and Maggie Lin, volunteer with Foster Care Counts at the eighth annual Foster Mother’s Day celebration on Mother’s Day. Over 2,000 foster moms and kids were treated to a day of fun, entertainment and pampering. Photo by Chris Devlin

Foster Care Counts, the nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness and serving the needs of foster youth and families in Los Angeles, hosted its eighth annual Foster Mother’s Day on May 8 at The Willows Community School in Culver City. 

“We started Foster Mother’s Day eight years ago to honor and show our respect for the many foster parents who give selflessly of themselves every day,” Jeanne Pritzker, the founder of Foster Care Counts, said in a press release. “We all share responsibility for children in foster care — in fact, I see these kids as all of our kids! Foster Mother’s Day allows us to show our appreciation while bringing the community together in support of foster families.”

The event served more than 2,000 foster moms and kids with a day filled with fun, entertainment, food, relaxation and pampering. Visitors to a spa enjoyed hairstyling by future professionals from Paul Mitchell the School in Sherman Oaks and makeup from Jouer Cosmetics. Children had their own area, where there were carnival games, arts and crafts, magicians, balloon artists and face painting.

Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services Director Philip Browning, Congresswoman Karen Bass, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas made appearances at the event, as did Hayden Byerly from Freeform’s “The Fosters.” 

“There is no one more deserving of recognition and our gratitude than the many Los Angeles County foster mothers and fathers who care for our most vulnerable children,” Browning said in a press release.  

— Avi Sholkoff, Contributing Writer


Comedians Gad Elmaleh and Elon Gold mug backstage with a Jewish Journal cover story on Elmaleh, who closed out his limited run at Largo at the Coronet with a sold-out show May 5.

Israelis mourn after a year of increased attacks

As Israel marked its traditional day of mourning for fallen servicemen on Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance on April 22, in a far corner of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, an intimate ceremony for victims of attacks was underway. Mourners packed elbow-to-elbow under beige tents, each with a story of loss.

“He was kidnapped at the entrance to Jerusalem on his way to turn in his military uniform. It was supposed to be his last day,” an Israeli-American who lives in Jerusalem said of a close friend killed in 1994 at the age of 24. “Later they found his tefillin bag laying on the side of the road. Three days later they found his body,” she said. 

For some, it was their first time attending the commemoration for victims of attacks. “We feel a human connection,” said Sara Halevi, 23, a resident of the Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem where five people were killed in a synagogue in November 2014 when two Palestinians yielding knives attacked worshippers. The murders were gruesome and shook HaLevi, who usually attends Israel’s main event, a military ceremony held hours earlier, also on Mount Herzl, honoring fallen soldiers.

Indeed, Israelis have had a rockier year than most since the close of the second Intifada. Twenty-five have been killed since April 2014, the last such commemoration, a stark increase from the six killed in attacks in 2013, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared the story of his personal loss, the death of his older brother Yonaton (Yoni) Netanyahu, killed in 1976 during Operation Entebbe, an Israeli rescue mission of hostages held by Palestinian militants who had hijacked an Air France plane. “It was the worst moment of my life, besides one other moment, seven hours later, after a tortuous nightlong journey, when I walked up the path leading to the house of my mother and father,” the Prime Minister said.

While Netanyahu spoke, thousands of Israelis gathered at the gravesites of their deceased relatives. Mount Herzl is also Israel’s flagship army cemetery, and on this day it was a sea of grief. In every direction, hundreds sat on small plastic chairs next to headstones. Others placed small rocks beside the graves, a traditional Jewish ritual.

“They recruited him to the infantry when he arrived, and he never came back. We don’t know what happened to him,” Diane Alice, 69, said of her late husband. At just 22, she was left to raise three children under the age of four when her husband was killed. The couple had emigrated from Morocco to Israel that same year.  Attending the official army ceremony, “It unifies you with all of the other families,” said Alice who traveled from Haifa for the memorial with her now-grown children.

On Tuesday night, at the sundown start to the commemorations, President Reuven Rivlin gave an inclusive eulogy in a torch-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He honored the latest victims and noted “Jews and non-Jews, lone soldiers and new immigrants” alike were killed in a series of attacks that followed Israel’s summer war in Gaza. The deceased included two Druze police officers who were slain while on-duty.

“Death struck at the door of many, regardless of their religious beliefs. No camp was left untouched by death,” the president said.

That same night in Tel Aviv, some 5,000 people poured into a stadium at the north of the city to honor both Israeli and Palestinians victims of the conflict in an alternative commemoration. Combatants for Peace, an organization founded by former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants hosted a testimony reading by family members of the victims.

“In all of this darkness, I suddenly understood, there was meaning hiding everywhere,” Iris Segev said from the stage, recounting how joining up with bereaved Palestinian families helped her grieve after her son Nimrod Segev was killed during the Second Lebanon War, in 2006.

Palestinian Yasmine Istaye, 27, from the village of Salem near Nablus, read from braille, explaining she is nearly blind from an eye disorder. “I can feel the energy of thousand who want to be together.” A settler killed her father in 2007.

At Combatants for Peace’s first commemoration 10 years ago, just a few hundred attended. This time around, the hall was filled beyond capacity. It was the largest memorial in Tel Aviv. Still, traditionally, Yom HaZikaron is about remembering soldiers who lost their lives while in the Israeli army. Their deaths are viewed as a sacrifice to the existence of the state of Israel. In that sense, Tel Aviv’s memorial, which rejects that narrative and casts soldiers’ deaths as victims in a political conflict, evoked shock and anger from many.

Segev’s husband and her other son would not attend, opting for the state military ceremony headed by Netanyahu. Outside, around 20 protested. They yelled racial epitaphs at the attendees as they entered and exited the front doors.

Back inside the venue, in a prep room, the two men who founded the joint memorial told the Journal how each of their daughters had died from violence in the conflict. 

“I lost my 14-year old daughter in a suicide bombing on the fourth of September 1997,” Rami el-Hanoun, 65, said of Samadar el-Hanoun.

For el-Hanoun, joining Combatants for Peace “opened a whole new world for me. I was 47 years old when I first met the Palestinians—every time I say that I am ashamed—deeply ashamed.” He added, “ever since then I have been hooked. It has given purpose and meaning to my life, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It gives sense to the senseless killing of my daughter.”

By el-Hanoun’s side was Bassem Aramin, 45, a co-founder of Combatants for Peace, along with el-Hanoun’s son, Erik el-Hanoun. Aramin explained that before he started the organization, he spent his late teens and early twenties incarcerated after he joined up with a group that tossed two grenades at Israeli soldiers. In jail he had a change of heart.

“We decided to let down our weapons because we discovered that we wanted to kill each other to achieve the same thing, peace and security—of course each one from his point of view. But the result is the same result. We are dying. We are suffering, both of us,” Aramin said.

Two years after their 2005 start, disaster struck. Israeli border police killed Aramin’s 10-year old daughter, Abir Aramin. She was a bystander to a confrontation in Anata in the West Bank.

“We ran to the hospital to sit by her bed, and for me it was like losing my daughter for the second time. I was completely devastated” el-Hanoun said of Abir. At that point, the two families, one Israeli, one Palestinian “became, in fact, one family,” he said.

Israelis mourn after a year of increased attacks

As Israel marked its traditional day of mourning for fallen servicemen on Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance on April 22, in a far corner of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, an intimate ceremony for victims of attacks was underway. Mourners packed elbow-to-elbow under beige tents, each with a story of loss.

“He was kidnapped at the entrance to Jerusalem on his way to turn in his military uniform. It was supposed to be his last day,” an Israeli-American who lives in Jerusalem said of a close friend killed in 1994 at the age of 24. “Later they found his tefillin bag laying on the side of the road. Three days later they found his body,” she said.

For some, it was their first time attending the commemoration for victims of attacks. “We feel a human connection,” said Sara Halevi, 23, a resident of the Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem where five people were killed in a synagogue in November 2014 when two Palestinians yielding knives attacked worshippers. The murders were gruesome and shook HaLevi, who usually attends Israel’s main event, a military ceremony held hours earlier, also on Mount Herzl, honoring fallen soldiers.

Indeed, Israelis have had a rockier year than most since the close of the second Intifada. Twenty-five have been killed since April 2014, the last such commemoration, a stark increase from the six killed in attacks in 2013, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared the story of his personal loss, the death of his older brother Yonaton (Yoni) Netanyahu, killed in 1976 during Operation Entebbe, an Israeli rescue mission of hostages held by Palestinian militants who had hijacked an Air France plane. “It was the worst moment of my life, besides one other moment, seven hours later, after a tortuous nightlong journey, when I walked up the path leading to the house of my mother and father,” the Prime Minister said.

While Netanyahu spoke, thousands of Israelis gathered at the gravesites of their deceased relatives. Mount Herzl is also Israel’s flagship army cemetery, and on this day it was a sea of grief. In every direction, hundreds sat on small plastic chairs next to headstones. Others placed small rocks beside the graves, a traditional Jewish ritual.

“They recruited him to the infantry when he arrived, and he never came back. We don’t know what happened to him,” Diane Alice, 69, said of her late husband. At just 22, she was left to raise three children under the age of four when her husband was killed. The couple had emigrated from Morocco to Israel that same year. Attending the official army ceremony, “It unifies you with all of the other families,” said Alice who traveled from Haifa for the memorial with her now-grown children.

On Tuesday night, at the sundown start to the commemorations, President Reuven Rivlin gave an inclusive eulogy in a torch-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He honored the latest victims and noted “Jews and non-Jews, lone soldiers and new immigrants” alike were killed in a series of attacks that followed Israel’s summer war in Gaza. The deceased included two Druze police officers who were slain while on-duty.

“Death struck at the door of many, regardless of their religious beliefs. No camp was left untouched by death,” the president said.

That same night in Tel Aviv, some 5,000 people poured into a stadium at the north of the city to honor both Israeli and Palestinians victims of the conflict in an alternative commemoration. Combatants for Peace, an organization founded by former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants hosted a testimony reading by family members of the victims.

“In all of this darkness, I suddenly understood, there was meaning hiding everywhere,” Iris Segev said from the stage, recounting how joining up with bereaved Palestinian families helped her grieve after her son Nimrod Segev was killed during the Second Lebanon War, in 2006.

Palestinian Yasmine Istaye, 27, from the village of Salem near Nablus, read from braille, explaining she is nearly blind from an eye disorder. “I can feel the energy of thousand who want to be together.” A settler killed her father in 2007.

At Combatants for Peace’s first commemoration 10 years ago, just a few hundred attended. This time around, the hall was filled beyond capacity. It was the largest memorial in Tel Aviv. Still, traditionally, Yom HaZikaron is about remembering soldiers who lost their lives while in the Israeli army. Their deaths are viewed as a sacrifice to the existence of the state of Israel. In that sense, Tel Aviv’s memorial, which rejects that narrative and casts soldiers’ deaths as victims in a political conflict, evoked shock and anger from many.

Segev’s husband and her other son would not attend, opting for the state military ceremony headed by Netanyahu. Outside, around 20 protested. They yelled racial epitaphs at the attendees as they entered and exited the front doors.

Back inside the venue, in a prep room, the two men who founded the joint memorial told the Journal how each of their daughters had died from violence in the conflict.

“I lost my 14-year old daughter in a suicide bombing on the fourth of September 1997,” Rami el-Hanoun, 65, said of Samadar el-Hanoun.

For el-Hanoun, joining Combatants for Peace “opened a whole new world for me. I was 47 years old when I first met the Palestinians—every time I say that I am ashamed—deeply ashamed.” He added, “ever since then I have been hooked. It has given purpose and meaning to my life, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It gives sense to the senseless killing of my daughter.”

By el-Hanoun’s side was Bassem Aramin, 45, a co-founder of Combatants for Peace, along with el-Hanoun’s son, Erik el-Hanoun. Aramin explained that before he started the organization, he spent his late teens and early twenties incarcerated after he joined up with a group that tossed two grenades at Israeli soldiers. In jail he had a change of heart.

“We decided to let down our weapons because we discovered that we wanted to kill each other to achieve the same thing, peace and security—of course each one from his point of view. But the result is the same result. We are dying. We are suffering, both of us,” Aramin said.

Two years after their 2005 start, disaster struck. Israeli border police killed Aramin’s 10-year old daughter, Abir Aramin. She was a bystander to a confrontation in Anata in the West Bank.

“We ran to the hospital to sit by her bed, and for me it was like losing my daughter for the second time. I was completely devastated” el-Hanoun said of Abir. At that point, the two families, one Israeli, one Palestinian “became, in fact, one family,” he said.

From Memorial Day to Independence Day

In a few hours, Israel’s Memorial Day will end and Israel’s Independence Day will begin.

As they say here, once the clock strikes 8 p.m. we will change from a drop of red blood on green fabric to a drop of blue hope on white fabric. The colors could not be more different, but their message could not be more intertwined. 

       Today was my first Yom Hazikaron— Memorial Day– in Israel. Today, Mt. Herzl, the military cemetery  transformed from a cemetery to a mourners home. Each grave was now a person, a person surrounded by loved ones, mothers, sons, daughters, and wives. Israel, the fast-paced, won’t-wait-for-a-second, always busy country, stopped. We stopped talking, we stopped walking, we stopped life, and for a minute, we stood in complete silence. And in that silence, through the streaming tears, and broken hearts, a cry could be heard. A cry of a young boy who never had the chance to marry, a cry of a father who didn't have the chance to kiss his little girl goodbye, and the cry of a mother who never stopped waiting for her son to come home. 

       It is with those wet eyes that we must envision a better future, it is with those trembling hands that we must continue to build our country, and it is through those cracks in our broken hearts, that we must let the light of faith shine through.  It is only after proper recognition and gratitude, that we can celebrate and continue to create what we have. 

         If I may, let me ask you a favor, next time your plane lands on this holy soil: Don’t take it for granted. Even if the plane ride was a bit too uncomfortable, or the food didn't come on time, or you had to wait a little extra for the suitcases, don't lose sight of the big picture. Don't forget the young and the pure-hearted. Don’t forget those who have laid down to rest, so that you can come to a country called home. A country that wears the uniform of God. A country that is waiting for its brothers and sisters to come home, a country where green and white fabric seamlessly blend together and create Israel. 

Sabrina Mahboubi recently immigrated to Israel from Beverly Hills, CA.

Name of Palestinian teen killed in revenge slaying added to Israel’s terror victims list

Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teenager who was kidnapped and burned alive by Jews in a revenge killing, was recognized as a terror victim on Israel’s national memorial.

Khdeir’s name was added to the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial at Mount Herzl and also appears on the government’s official list of terror victims.

His father, Hussein, told Ynet on Tuesday that “this is a great initiative meant to honor my son, but I’m more interested with something else entirely: For the court to do justice with those who burned my son alive and sentence them to the appropriate punishment.”

Khdeir’s father also told a Nazareth-based Arabic radio station that the family will request that his son’s name be removed from the list, Haaretz reported.

Khdeir is the first Arab killed by Jews to be added to the memorial, the director of Mount Herzl, Hagai Admon, told The Times of Israel.

Khdeir, 16, was kidnapped from his eastern Jerusalem neighborhood early on the morning of July 2 and murdered hours later, less than a day after the funerals of Israeli teens Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach, who were kidnapped and slain by Palestinians near Hebron.

Three Jews are on trial for beating Khdeir and then setting him on fire. The suspects — Yosef Haim Ben-David, 29, and two 16-year-old males — told investigators that the slaying was in revenge for the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens.

Israel’s Defense Ministry recognized Khdeir as a civilian victim of terror two weeks after he was murdered, an act that was widely reported. His name on the memorial was noted this week as Israel gears up for Yom Hazikaron, or Memorial Day, which begins at sundown Tuesday.

Israel to recognize 23,320 fallen on Memorial Day

Israel will recognize its 23,320 fallen soldiers as well as civilian victims of terror with the start of Yom Hazikaron, or Memorial Day.

Memorial Day begins on Tuesday night with a minute-long siren. A second siren, two minutes long, will sound at 11 a.m. Wednesday and marks the beginning of official memorial ceremonies throughout Israel.

Among those being honored are the 116 soldiers and civilians who were killed or died in the last year, including 67 soldiers and five civilians killed in Israel’s operation in Gaza last summer.

The figure of 23,320 fallen soldiers is calculated from 1860, when Jews first began to settle outside of Jerusalem. The dead  include members of the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad, the Israel Police, the Israel Prisons Service and the World War II Jewish Brigade, and include soldiers who died from their disabilities suffered during combat, including 35 such soldiers this year.

“On Remembrance Day, the Israeli nation, as one big family, bows its head and unites with the memories of all of the fallen of Israel’s
wars as a moral obligation to those who in their death commanded us to live. So that we may be worthy of them,” Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon wrote after lighting a virtual candle on a memorial website of his ministry that allows the public to light the virtual candles and leave messages.

On Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the grave of his brother, Yonatan, who died in 1976 during the rescue of kidnapped Israelis in Entebbe, Uganda. Netanyahu has visited the grave ahead of Memorial Day since taking office in order to avoid disturbing bereaved families on the actual day.

On Sunday, the prime minister met with children who lost their fathers during the fathers’ military service. The children, aged 8 to 15, from the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization, told Netanyahu about their fathers. Following the meeting, the prime minister invited the children to tour his office.

More than 1.5 million Israelis will visit military cemeteries throughout Yom Hazikaron. The end of Yom Hazikaron on Wednesday night marks the start of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.

Siren, ceremony mark start of Yom Hazikaron

Israelis “are not a people of war,” President Reuven Rivlin asserted at a candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to mark the start of Yom Hazikaron, the country’s Memorial Day.

Rivlin spoke Tuesday night after a one-minute siren sounded throughout the country, bringing the country to a halt.

“Our sons did not go to battle thirsty for blood. Not this past summer, not those before, not in our sorrow in those that, god forbid, are still to come. We are forced to fight. Our children are sentenced to continue to hold a weapon in order to guard our borders, to defend our homes, on the factory that we have built here. The defense of our existence is the way of our lives,” Rivlin said.

He continued: “The geography of pain, I’ve learned, crosses Israel in its length and width – but it does not divide it,” he added. “Death commands the believers and those who do not. There is no camp – no camp – in which there is no death. I’ve seen the sons of kibbutzim and settlements, moshavim and villages, Jews and non-Jews, urban people, lone soldiers and immigrants. I came to them too late. I got to know them when they were no longer here.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  held a ceremony at the headquarters in Jerusalem of  Yad Lebanim, the association for families of fallen soldiers. He spoke about his family’s continuing grief for his brother, Yonatan, who died in 1976 during the rescue of kidnapped Israelis in Entebbe, Uganda. The prime minister had visited his brother’s grave earlier in the week in order to avoid disturbing bereaved families on the actual day.

A second siren, two minutes long, will sound at 11 a.m. Wednesday and marks the beginning of official memorial ceremonies throughout Israel.

Some 23,320 fallen soldiers and civilian victims of terror will be recognized this year, including the 116 soldiers and civilians who were killed or died in the last year, among them the  67 soldiers and five civilians killed in Israel’s operation in Gaza last summer. The figure of 23,320 fallen soldiers is calculated from 1860, when Jews first began to settle outside of Jerusalem.

Yom HaZikaron event tonight at the Steve Tisch Cinema Center

Temple of the Arts is partnering tonight, April 21, with dozens of Jewish synagogues and organizations from all denominations and specialties for a special inaugural Yom HaZikaron event at the Steve Tisch Cinema Center at the Saban Theatre. The evening's special feature will be a screening of Beneath the Helmet, a documentary created by Jerusalem U Productions about five Israeli high school graduates who come of age as they're drafted into the Israeli army. The event is free of charge, open to the public, and begins at 7:30 P.M. The evening's sponsors are Dr. Philip and Adi Werthman, in loving memory of Samuel Werthman.

Sirens and solidarity on Yom Hazikaron

We hadn’t expected the siren to ring.

We knew there would be one the next morning, when, as on Holocaust Remembrance Day a week earlier, people would come to a standstill whether in their cars, at work or at home. But we didn’t know the same siren would ring out, across the whole country, while we ate Shabbat leftovers on Sunday night, talking about work or the weekend or I don’t know what.

We looked at each other surprised, unprepared. We both got out of our seats and walked onto our Tel Aviv apartment’s small balcony, facing an abandoned building from the British Mandate period. Behind it, a neighbor stood as we did, leaning on his railing. I don’t know what he thought, or whom he’s lost. I thought, it’s nice to have company.

Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, which began tonight and goes until dusk tomorrow, is all about the fallen in this young country’s many wars. But what struck me Sunday night, as we stood with thousands in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, was how this day brought all the people who are left into so many crowded places. We were all standing together even as we surely had different thoughts about what Israel is, what it means, what it should be.

The ceremony dragged on, punctuated by the few songs I recognized or the celebrity who popped onstage. Two hours in, we began walking home. As soon as we crossed the street, we heard the opening notes of the national anthem. Just as we had during dinner, we stopped, turned around and stood silent. As we mouthed the words, we saw another couple standing like us.

Monday morning, I’ll meet a friend for coffee. It was an appointment we’d set, only to reconsider given the day’s solemnity. Would chatting in a cafe demean the saddest time of the year? I, the American immigrant, deferred to him, the first-generation Israeli son of French Jews, and he devised a compromise: We’d take the coffee to go, and then find a park bench. I hope we talk about the state, why we’re here, the challenges we face. But even if we don’t, it’ll be nice to have company.

Moving and Shaking: Jewish leaders celebrate Yom HaZikaron, Milken students discuss Yom HaShoah

Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel Photo by Orly Halevy

Leaders from Los Angeles’ Jewish and Israel communities came together to celebrate Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and victims of terror, on April 14 at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air. The Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles organized the evening ceremony, which took place on the eve of the holiday. Speakers included Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel. Miri Nash, executive director of the Western Region of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), laid down a wreath to commemorate the dead. Established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors, the FIDF provides for the well-being of the men and women who fight in the Israel Defense Forces and for the families of fallen soldiers


Milken students meet with Holocaust survivors and husband and wife Arnold and Isolde Schwartzman. Photo courtesy of Remember Us: The Righteous Conversations Project

During the week of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), teenagers from Milken Community High School discussed that time in history with several survivors. During a four-day workshop held April 8-11 at Milken’s campus in Bel Air, 15 students, four filmmakers and four teachers met with four Holocaust survivors to engage in conversation about the impact and responsibility of communal memory. The event was part of the Righteous Conversations Project, which facilitates dialogue between survivors and teens. At the gathering, posters from “Voices & Visions,” a poster art campaign involving quotes from notable Jewish thinkers, added a layer to the workshop’s exploration into the role of media messages in today’s world. Attendees included Los Angeles filmmaker and “Voices” artistic director Arnold Schwartzman, who served as the workshop artist-in-residence, and his wife, Isolde.


Dan Friedman

The Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (SIJCC) has named Dan Friedman as its program director. The New Jersey native, who was hired in mid-February and will oversee community programming implemented by the SIJCC and East Side Jews, previously served as producing director at the
Greenway Arts Alliance and as the program director at the Sholem Community. “I am excited about working in this position,” Friedman said. “The vibrant, unique people and energy that makes up the East Side of Los Angeles is packed with creative voices and people excited to engage in discourse and build a community.”


This month, the West Coast Region of American Friends of Ramban Hospital named Steven Karash as its new director. The former executive vice president of advertising and marketing for the Jewish Journal, Karash spent the majority of his career on the staff of the New York Times Media Group in Los Angeles, where he held sales and management positions.

Israel observes Memorial Day with siren, ceremonies

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a national memorial ceremony for Israel's fallen soldiers that no one will succeed in destroying Israel.

“Since the birth of the State of Israel, many have tried to destroy it. They will never succeed. The IDF is stronger than ever,” Netanyahu said Monday at the ceremony on Mount Herzl, moments after a two-minute siren that brings Israelis throughout the country to a standstill on Memorial Day. “We will continue to strengthen our forces and act toward achieving peace with our neighbors and to protect our state. We always remember that we wouldn't be here without our soldiers' willingness to fight for our existence.

“We salute the fallen, our loved ones, the heroes of the State of Israel. May they rest in peace,” he said.

The ceremony was one of hundreds across the country in which Israel remembered its more than 25,000 fallen soldiers and terror victims

Yom Hazikaron, or Memorial Day, began in Israel on Sunday night with the sounding of a siren.

“We will not forget even for a moment and will always remember those for whom the survival of Israel and its glory are indebted,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an address to bereaved families Sunday night at the national ceremony held at the Western Wall.

Peres praised the courage and spirit of Israeli soldiers and their commanders.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also addressed the bereaved families.

Judah Pearl, the father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, lit the memorial flame Monday at the annual Yom Hazikaron ceremony at the Jewish Agency and National Institutions Compound in Jerusalem in memory of Jews killed in terror attacks and anti-Semitic incidents around the world.

“The last words of my son were, 'My father is a Jew, my mother is a Jew and I am a Jew.' For 11 years I have prayed for the moment that I would have the honor to read Daniel’s words in Jerusalem, the city where he celebrated his bar mitzvah,” Pearl said. “Today I can realize that privilege by lighting the memorial flame here in Jerusalem. This is a memorial flame, but it is also the flame of Jewish pride and a collective pledge that terror and evil will never be victorious and that our grandchildren will enjoy a better world.”

Also participating in the ceremony were Daniel Pearl’s two sisters; his wife; Mariane; and his son, Adam, who was born several months after his father’s murder in Pakistan.

Netanyahu at the opening of the weekly Cabinet meeting said Sunday, “We are here thanks to Israel's fighters who joined the struggle for our existence, thanks to those who survived the wars and thanks to those who fell. We do not forget, even for a second, that we are here thanks to the fallen.”

On Saturday night, Netanyahu visited the grave of his brother, Yonatan, who died in 1976 during the rescue of kidnapped Israelis in Entebbe, Uganda.

Some 92 names were added to the list of Israel's fallen this year.

According to the Ministry of Defense, there are 17,553 bereaved families of security personnel in Israel, 2,324 orphans, and 4,964 widows of the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment.

More than 1.5 million Israelis will visit military cemeteries throughout Yom Hazikaron. The end of Yom Hazikaron on Monday night marks the start of Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.

Also Sunday, in advance of Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics released its annual population report, which found that Israel’s population hit 8 million for the first time. It represents an increase of 1.8 percent, or 137,000 people, over last year.

Siren ushers in Israel’s Memorial Day

A one-minute siren marked the beginning of Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day, Israel’s official Memorial Day.

Tuesday evening’s siren was immediately followed by a national ceremony held at the Western Wall and televised to the entire nation.

“Your beloved ones had a crucial part in the achievements of the state,” Israeli President Shimon Peres told the bereaved families at the ceremony. “We shall forever remain indebted to your children. No act or gesture on our part can relieve your pain and the memories that will not vanish.”

According to official figures, the total number of fallen security personnel and terror victims from 1860 to 2012 stands at 22,993, with 126 killed since last Remembrance Day. There are 10,524 bereaved families of security personnel, 2,396 orphans and 4,992 widows of the Israeli military and the defense establishment.

At a ceremony earlier in the day at the Yad Lebanim memorial, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the bereaved parents and political and religious figures on hand, “It was the heartfelt duty of our dear ones that led them to face the enemy.  It is the duty of our conscience that leads us to stand with eyes closed and not only remember but look toward the future as well. Today, the people of Israel lay aside disagreements and stand as one beside you. Today we remember the fallen of Israel’s wars, all of our dear ones. Each one had a family.  Every name has a life’s story of its own; an entire world has been cut short.”

Netanyahu’s brother Yonatan was killed in the Israeli military’s July 1976 mission to rescue hostages at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

“As a member of a bereaved family, Remembrance Day is very significant for me,” the prime minister said. “It is not only a national day of remembrance, it is also a private day of remembrance for me and my family, as it is for all of you.”

Memorial services will be held in communities and military cemeteries across the country on Wednesday, culminating with a torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl at 8 p.m., which ushers in Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Israel Independence Day.

Also Tuesday, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics announced that Israel’s population stands at 7.88 million. There were 806,000 residents of Israel when it was established in 1948.

Three-quarters of the population, or 59.3 million people, is Jewish. The 1.62 million Arabs in Israel comprise 20 percent of the population.

Israeli soldier killed in Mount Herzl stage collapse

One woman was killed and several people were injured after a stage collapsed on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

The collapse came Wednesday afternoon during a rehearsal for the national Memorial Day ceremony to be held next week, according to reports.

A bank of heavy lights crashed to the stage, according to reports. The accident occured shortly after a large group of soliers participating in the ceremony left the scene. One of the injured is reported to be in moderate condition.

Police and rescue workers searched the scene for more injured, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Israelis observe national Memorial Day

Israel continued its observance of Memorial Day, or Yom HaZikaron with a two-minute siren sounded across the country.

The siren Monday morning, during which people stopped and stood in their places and traffic came to a standstill, also marked the start of the State ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

The annual observance of Remembrance Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism is in memory of the nearly 23,000 men and women who have fallen in battle for the State of Israel and the some 2,500 Israelis who have been victims of terrorist attacks.

“It is hard to estimate the full price our state has paid with its fallen – families never established, children who were never born, creations never created,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the ceremony.

“I wish I could advise those of you who have this year joined our family, the family of bereavement, but I am powerless to do so. I know that even though the entire nation accompanies you, you have been sentenced to walk alone with this pain and the abyss that has opened up in your lives,” Netanyahu said

Some 183 members of Israel’s security forces, including police, Israel Defense Forces, Border Police, Israel Security Agency and other organizations—have been killed since last Memorial Day. Among that number are the 41 police officers and prison services officers killed in December 2010 in the Carmel Forest Fire. Three fire fighters were also killed in the blaze, but the Cabinet decided Sunday to defer a discussion as to whether to recognize the firefighters as Israel’s Fallen.

Memorial ceremonies were held in military cemeteries across the country on Monday.

“To this holy place, a remnant of our Temple, our fighting sons, the first paratroopers came, and touched the stones of the Western Wall, in the midst of the Six-Day War,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said Sunday night, addressing bereaved families gathered at the Western Wall for the national memorial ceremony, following a minute long siren and moment of silence to usher in the somber day.

“We didn’t seek war. It was imposed upon us. But when we were attacked, we didn’t have the possibility to lose, even one war. And when we won, we returned to seek peace,” he said. “We were sober then and we remained prepared today. And in any situation we will not give up the chance of full peace, real peace. And if one opportunity fails, we will look for a new one.”

At a memorial ceremony earlier Sunday on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem to open events marking the day, Netanyahu, whose brother Yonatan was killed 35 years ago leading the operation to free the hostages at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, addressed bereaved families.

“As a member of a bereaved family, I am well acquainted with the pain, the sense of loss and helplessness,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu, his wife and two sons visited the grave of Yonatan Netanyahu on Saturday night.

The conclusion of Memorial Day on Monday night marks the beginning of Israel Independence Day, or Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Euroleague basketball finals changed to accommodate Israeli team

The start time of the Euroleague championship basketball game has been moved up by several hours to accommodate an Israeli team that does not want to play on its Memorial Day.

On Wednesday, the Euroleague said the May 8 final of its Final Four tournament in Barcelona, Spain, would be played at 5:30 p.m. Israel time, so as not to interfere with Yom Hazikaron, the memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

Maccabi Tel Aviv, the most awarded sports team in Israeli history, qualified for the Final Four after beating the Spanish team Caja Laboral Vitoria in four games last week to capture their best-of-5-series.

Maccabi’s general manager, Shimon Mizrachi, the winner of this year’s prestigious Israel Prize, negotiated with the CEO of the Euroleague about changing the tipoff to an earlier hour.

Maccabi, which has won the Euroleague title four times since 1977, must win its semifinal game on May 6 to qualify for the finals.

The idea of an Israeli team playing on one of the most somber days on the Israeli calendar sparked controversy on the Israeli street.

In Maccabi’s case, it wasn’t the first time. Twenty years ago, the club was heavily criticized for playing in the semifinals of the European Final Four in a game that ended after the start of Memorial Day in Israel.

Rooms of the heart: The bridge between Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron

In his official Memorial Day speech at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described how, as a young soldier, two of his fellow soldiers, 19 years old, were killed during a lethal military operation, and how one of them, David Ben Hamu, died in his arms in the army car on the way to the closest hospital.  The Prime Minister had been a member of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, the same unit which his brother Yonatan, led during the Entebbe rescue, during which Yonatan died.

Netanyahu described how, years later, when he went to visit Ben Hamu’s parents in Beer Sheva, his mother showed him David’s room. It was exactly how it looked the day he fell in battle, she said. Not one detail had been changed, not one item moved.

I remember once staying overnight at the home of a friend in another town, a friend whose son had also died in a battle against terrorists. She now uses his bedroom as the guest room. Her hospitality was effusive and generous, but I hardly slept all night. I was surrounded by army medals, photographs, items that had belonged to the courageous young soldier.

As I heard Netanyahu speak, and as I remembered the room of the son of my friend, and the rooms of so many other soldiers who die in battle and whose families maintain their bedrooms as shrines, where they are young forever, all I could think of were the words, “rooms of the heart”.

In English, the four different parts of the heart are called “chambers”. In Hebrew, they are called simply “rooms”.

The week that is, every year

Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, and for those who have died at the hand of terrorist, come exactly one week apart. It is a week fraught with emotion and a deep clutching at the internal and collective spirit of the Jewish people in Israel. The two days are inexorably linked, for the event of the first day reminds us why we must have an army of our own, so a shoah will never happen again.

This year, on Yom Hashoah, I invited Mr. Mendel Flaster of San Diego, who was visiting in Israel, to speak to the 9th grade class I teach in Yeshivat Makor Chaim in Gush Etzion. Many of the students have brothers who have been in the army, or fathers or grandfathers who have fought in Israel’s wars, or family members who endured the Shoah, or grandfathers who fought with the Allies during WWII.

Mendel, who is 90 years old, is lucid and articulate. He described how, as a 19-year-old, in 1939, he was taken to a Nazi labor camp in Poland. He eventually endured 14 camps in six years, the last one being Auschwitz-Birkenau.

When he was liberated, he was recruited by the American army to work for the CIC and the CID, organizations that tracked down and gathered information to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Mendel helped send 30 Nazi war criminals to prison. Twelve hours of his testimony were recorded for the project of Steven Spielberg, who also wrote him several personal letters.

Mendel’s scores of stories are replete with descriptions of the camps – onerous labor, hunger, filth, cruel punishments, debasement and death, and what the inmates did, not only to survive, but to maintain their personal dignity. The stories are numerous, chilling and inspiring, and hopefully one day will fill a book.

He told five especially mesmerizing stories that I’d like to relate, as they seem so unbelievable, given the context in which they occurred.

One was how Mendel galvanized around him a group of young men in one of the labor camps who, with him, went “on strike” and refused to work after their shoes had fallen apart and they had no other shoes to wear. They stroke for several weeks, in spite of severe deprivations and punishments, knowing that they could be executed for their rebellion. Yet they held out, and eventually a truck arrived full of shoes, and they returned to work.

A second story was about how he did everything to keep a modicum of religious observance. He befriended and made deals with one camp cook so that, on Pesach, he could trade the portions of bread for potatoes, for himself and others. He described how he led the davening of Kol Nidre in their “barracks”, with the participation of all of the inmates, even though they knew that if the Nazi guards chose that moment to walk in, they would all be killed.

In a third story, he described how they would do anything in order to see their families, who were hours away. He used to sneak out and walk seven hours each way each week, , through forests and over mountains, in order to – surrealistically – spend Shabbat at home. Every time he reported back to the camp for work, he received 25 lashes, but he bore them bravely each week in order to see his family. When he was in yet another camp, several years later, and the time came that he and the other inmates knew the villages of the area would be sent away to their death, he arranged with a somewhat sympathetic Nazi guard that he and a group of his friends, be allowed to visit their families one last time. He had to explain to the men that if any of them used the opportunity to escape, all the rest would be executed.

He worked out a schedule, and the guard arranged it so that trucks that delivered goods in the area would take detours in order to drop the men off for short visits with their families, who were subsequently sent to their deaths. He left his own visit for the end. “As the leader,” he said, “I wanted to go last.” But there were no more deliveries, so he snuck out. When he arrived at his family’s home, at 1 o’clock in the morning, he didn’t want to knock on the locked door, so as not to awaken neighbors who might report him; rather, he just touched a window and his mother opened it immediately. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, and took him immediately into the home. An hour and a half later he left to return to the camp. He never saw anyone in his family again.

In a fourth story, Mendel described how the first two fingers of his left hand got caught in a machine and the tips were cut off. When he recuperated in the infirmary, he did everything to help people who were in a worse state than himself. When Mengele sent everyone from the infirmary to the gas chambers, the staff asked that Mendel be spared, as they needed his help.

Lastly, when Mendel was in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, he was asked to stay behind and help close the camp when all the others were sent on the infamous death march. But he refused to leave his comrades, even though he knew it could mean almost certain death. “Wherever they go,” he said, “I will go with them.”

Those who stayed behind were eventually shot. Mendel survived.

“All I did,” he told my students, “was try to help others, to not be selfish.”

“Be kind to each other.”

Just before he left the classroom, I photographed him with the boys. He looked them in the eye and said, “You are all good boys. Daven, learn Torah, and be kind to each other, because G-d loves that.”

When I asked the students to write what they received from Mendel’s talk, they wrote about faith, and human dignity, and the importance of not being selfish. One wrote, “Yom Hashoah was always a far nightmare…Mendel made my Yom Hashoah something deeper…Mendel describing his last moments with his family made me cry. Mendel describing Jewish people getting killed, in all kinds of ways, released a rope that was tied to my heart.”

We all hold someone special in the rooms of our heart. And some of those rooms are occupied by holy men and women who died for Kiddush Hashem.

Every year, for one week, in Israel, the entire country allows itself to tiptoe into those rooms, hand in hand, sit down quietly in the corners, weep, and remember.

The writer is a teacher, editor and educational theater director.

Rooms of the heart: The bridge between Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron

In his official Memorial Day speech at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described how, as a young soldier, two of his fellow soldiers, 19 years old, were killed during a lethal military operation, and how one of them, David Ben Hamu, died in his arms in the army car on the way to the closest hospital.  The Prime Minister had been a member of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, the same unit which his brother Yonatan, led during the Entebbe rescue, during which Yonatan died.

Netanyahu described how, years later, when he went to visit Ben Hamu’s parents in Beer Sheva, his mother showed him David’s room. It was exactly how it looked the day he fell in battle, she said. Not one detail had been changed, not one item moved.

I remember once staying overnight at the home of a friend in another town, a friend whose son had also died in a battle against terrorists. She now uses his bedroom as the guest room. Her hospitality was effusive and generous, but I hardly slept all night. I was surrounded by army medals, photographs, items that had belonged to the courageous young soldier.

As I heard Netanyahu speak, and as I remembered the room of the son of my friend, and the rooms of so many other soldiers who die in battle and whose families maintain their bedrooms as shrines, where they are young forever, all I could think of were the words, “rooms of the heart”.

In English, the four different parts of the heart are called “chambers”. In Hebrew, they are called simply “rooms”.

The week that is, every year

Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, and for those who have died at the hand of terrorist, come exactly one week apart. It is a week fraught with emotion and a deep clutching at the internal and collective spirit of the Jewish people in Israel. The two days are inexorably linked, for the event of the first day reminds us why we must have an army of our own, so a shoah will never happen again.

This year, on Yom Hashoah, I invited Mr. Mendel Flaster of San Diego, who was visiting in Israel, to speak to the 9th grade class I teach in Yeshivat Makor Chaim in Gush Etzion. Many of the students have brothers who have been in the army, or fathers or grandfathers who have fought in Israel’s wars, or family members who endured the Shoah, or grandfathers who fought with the Allies during WWII.

Mendel, who is 90 years old, is lucid and articulate. He described how, as a 19-year-old, in 1939, he was taken to a Nazi labor camp in Poland. He eventually endured 14 camps in six years, the last one being Auschwitz-Birkenau.

When he was liberated, he was recruited by the American army to work for the CIC and the CID, organizations that tracked down and gathered information to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Mendel helped send 30 Nazi war criminals to prison. Twelve hours of his testimony were recorded for the project of Steven Spielberg, who also wrote him several personal letters.

Mendel’s scores of stories are replete with descriptions of the camps – onerous labor, hunger, filth, cruel punishments, debasement and death, and what the inmates did, not only to survive, but to maintain their personal dignity. The stories are numerous, chilling and inspiring, and hopefully one day will fill a book.

He told five especially mesmerizing stories that I’d like to relate, as they seem so unbelievable, given the context in which they occurred.

One was how Mendel galvanized around him a group of young men in one of the labor camps who, with him, went “on strike” and refused to work after their shoes had fallen apart and they had no other shoes to wear. They stroke for several weeks, in spite of severe deprivations and punishments, knowing that they could be executed for their rebellion. Yet they held out, and eventually a truck arrived full of shoes, and they returned to work.

A second story was about how he did everything to keep a modicum of religious observance. He befriended and made deals with one camp cook so that, on Pesach, he could trade the portions of bread for potatoes, for himself and others. He described how he led the davening of Kol Nidre in their “barracks”, with the participation of all of the inmates, even though they knew that if the Nazi guards chose that moment to walk in, they would all be killed.

In a third story, he described how they would do anything in order to see their families, who were hours away. He used to sneak out and walk seven hours each way each week, , through forests and over mountains, in order to – surrealistically – spend Shabbat at home. Every time he reported back to the camp for work, he received 25 lashes, but he bore them bravely each week in order to see his family. When he was in yet another camp, several years later, and the time came that he and the other inmates knew the villages of the area would be sent away to their death, he arranged with a somewhat sympathetic Nazi guard that he and a group of his friends, be allowed to visit their families one last time. He had to explain to the men that if any of them used the opportunity to escape, all the rest would be executed.

He worked out a schedule, and the guard arranged it so that trucks that delivered goods in the area would take detours in order to drop the men off for short visits with their families, who were subsequently sent to their deaths. He left his own visit for the end. “As the leader,” he said, “I wanted to go last.” But there were no more deliveries, so he snuck out. When he arrived at his family’s home, at 1 o’clock in the morning, he didn’t want to knock on the locked door, so as not to awaken neighbors who might report him; rather, he just touched a window and his mother opened it immediately. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, and took him immediately into the home. An hour and a half later he left to return to the camp. He never saw anyone in his family again.

In a fourth story, Mendel described how the first two fingers of his left hand got caught in a machine and the tips were cut off. When he recuperated in the infirmary, he did everything to help people who were in a worse state than himself. When Mengele sent everyone from the infirmary to the gas chambers, the staff asked that Mendel be spared, as they needed his help.

Lastly, when Mendel was in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, he was asked to stay behind and help close the camp when all the others were sent on the infamous death march. But he refused to leave his comrades, even though he knew it could mean almost certain death. “Wherever they go,” he said, “I will go with them.”

Those who stayed behind were eventually shot. Mendel survived.

“All I did,” he told my students, “was try to help others, to not be selfish.”

“Be kind to each other.”

Just before he left the classroom, I photographed him with the boys. He looked them in the eye and said, “You are all good boys. Daven, learn Torah, and be kind to each other, because G-d loves that.”

When I asked the students to write what they received from Mendel’s talk, they wrote about faith, and human dignity, and the importance of not being selfish. One wrote, “Yom Hashoah was always a far nightmare…Mendel made my Yom Hashoah something deeper…Mendel describing his last moments with his family made me cry. Mendel describing Jewish people getting killed, in all kinds of ways, released a rope that was tied to my heart.”

We all hold someone special in the rooms of our heart. And some of those rooms are occupied by holy men and women who died for Kiddush Hashem.

Every year, for one week, in Israel, the entire country allows itself to tiptoe into those rooms, hand in hand, sit down quietly in the corners, weep, and remember.

The writer is a teacher, editor and educational theater director.

 

These Soldiers We Remember

Yigal Shaked warned his mother that if she told the enlisting officers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that he should be excused from service because of his asthma, he would never speak to her again.

“And be it as it may, he never did,” said Miriam Nash, Shaked’s first cousin. “He was killed the first day of the Yom Kippur War. He was 19. He was the commander of a tank and he was called to give two other tanks cover. The other two tanks were able to survive, but he was blown up along with the rest of his friends who were serving with him.”

Nash, a child of Holocaust survivors, considered Yigal to be “the brother she never had.” She is now the executive director of the Southern California Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. According to estimates from the Israeli consulate, hers is one of at least 50 Los Angeles families that have lost close relatives in one of the Arab-Israeli wars. On Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Rememberance (April 25, 4 Iyar), Israel, a country that conscripts its youth and calls up its older men for compulsory reservist duty, will commemorate the soldiers who died fighting for its existence with a three-minute silence. In Los Angeles the fallen will be remembered, too, in various ceremonies throughout the city.

“There is a reason why we commemorate Yom HaZikaron, and the next day we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut [Day of Independence, April 26, 5 Iyar],” said Shoshana Milstein, a Westside nurse who lost a brother in the Israeli navy in 1968. “We wouldn’t have Yom HaAtzmaut without Yom HaZikaron, and for me that it not just a saying, but I really feel that way.”

Milstein’s brother, Yosef Zohar, was part of a 69-person crew that was working to update the World War II-era submarine, Dakar, which Israel purchased from the British in 1968. While returning to Israel, the Dakar disappeared — without warning or subsequent explanation.

“On the way back to Israel [from England] they had communications with the Israeli navy in Haifa, then all of a sudden the communication was broken and they didn’t know what happened,” Milstein said. “I was in school then and we were supposed to go Haifa for parties and celebrations to welcome them home. Nobody knows what happened to [the submarine]. Thirty years later in 1999 the remains were found near the Island of Crete.”

Milstein was 18 when her brother died. She said he was a “phenomenal person” who was called “the rabbi” by his unit because he was Orthodox, serious and felt he had the whole world on his shoulders. For years she and others speculated about what might have happened to him, imagining that he might have been kidnapped and was still alive somewhere.

“When you don’t have a dead body you develop all of these wishful theories,” she said. “Of course affected my parents terribly — they were Holocaust survivors. They were so proud that they could make it to Israel. So on Yom HaZikaron I feel sad. It is a very meaningful day for me. I think about my brother a lot, and on Yom HaZikaron everybody joins in with me.”

But others who lost relatives in the wars feel less connected to Yom HaZikaron.

“I think Yom HaZikaron is mainly for people who didn’t lose their close relatives,” said Tzvi Vapni, the deputy consul general of Israel, who was 3 when his father was killed fighting in the Six-Day War in 1967. “For the bereaved family, we don’t need this day to remind us of the loss or the tragedy. When you lose a father or any close relative the loss is with you every day of the year. On Yom HaZikaron, the rest of the society joins you for one day.”

Vapni’s father, Moshe, was 31 when he was killed. Outside of the army, he was a schoolteacher, and now a school in Ramat Gan is named after him. In the army he was part of a small armed battalion fighting in the Sinai Desert the day before the war ended. Egyptian forces surrounded his unit, and Moshe Vapni died during the fierce battle that ensued.

“In Israel it is not an unusual thing [to have a relative who died fighting],” Nash said. “When the sirens go off on Yom HaZikaron, no matter where you are, and what you are doing, you stand still. And when you look around you and see the tears of the people, whether it is for their father, their husband or their best friend, there is always someone who knows someone who was killed. It is a small, tightly knit family.”

The Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles’ Yom
HaZikaron service will be held April 25 at 5:30 p.m. at Temple Adat Ari El,
12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. For information, visit www.israeliconsulatela.org .

Commemorating Israel’s Fallen Heroes

As more than 1,500 people gathered at Adat Ari El in Valley Village to commemorate Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) in an April 24 ceremony hosted by the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, neither an empty seat nor a dry eye was to be found.

The holiday is taken very seriously in Israel, where sirens sound and the country literally shuts down for two minutes as citizens solemnly remember the state’s fallen heroes. According to the Ministry of Defense’s latest report, 19,312 have lost their lives defending Israel since the State was establishment in May 1948.

Here in Los Angeles, "the connection is not an easy one," noted Zvi Vapni, deputy consul general of Israel, whose father, Moshe Vapni, died during the Six-Day War. "An extra special effort must be made to carry out a similar atmosphere as the one we have in Israel."

Thirty-two local families have lost loved ones in Israel’s defense. The names of each were read, and their pictures with yahrtzeit candles were poignantly exhibited in the synagogue’s lobby.

"I have been to many services, and they are all beautiful, but this one was exceptional," said Esti Duenyas, a field representative for the State of Israel Bonds in Los Angeles.

Gila Almagor, Israel’s first lady of theater, read selections of poetry at the ceremony, and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, in a brief statement, reminded the predominantly Israeli audience that the heroic soldiers fought and died not only in defense of Israel but on behalf of the entire Jewish people.

Statements were also made by Jewish Federation President John Fishel and Consul General of Israel Yuval Rotem, who asserted that the pervasive feeling in Israel of "a dream gone sour" may instead be turned into an opportunity.

"[Rather than] divide and weaken us, Arafat has instead united and reinforced us," Rotem said.

As Yom HaZikaron ended, Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) commenced. However, Israelis balance tragedy and triumph, noting that the two holidays come together as one package.

"This relationship between sadness and happiness being intertwined is at the very core of the Israeli existence," Vapni said.

Don’t Forget Israel’s Fallen

During May, both the United States and Israel will mark their respective Memorial Days. While the American version will have many remembrance events, most people will spend the day at barbecues, picnics or at the beach. This is not the case in Israel.

On the evening of May 8, as happens each year, all entertainment establishments are closed. There is not a family in Israel that does not have a family member, or at least a friend, who has lost a relative in Israel’s wars. In fact, the country literally comes to a halt when a siren call stops all Israelis for two minutes of contemplation and to honor the memories of those who gave their lives for the Jewish state.

They gave their lives in many places. Israeli soldiers, over the years, have not only fought for the citizens of Israel but in missions in Entebbe, in Europe and during rescue efforts in Ethiopia to protect Jews, wherever they might be. For that reason, I am confused by the fact that Yom Hazikaron is not on the agenda of the Jewish community here in Los Angeles. In fact, some prominent Jewish community leaders have made it clear that they were sorry if I was caused any discomfort or unease by the fact that they had other plans for the evening.

I was taken aback by the response. The affront was not towards me. I fear that the distance and the relative safety of Southern California may have caused us to lose our ties with the fact that more than 20,000 men and women have given their lives over the last 52 years for the security of Israel. As you read these words, our soldiers remain on duty in Lebanon and on the Golan Heights. Pilots are on alert and the Israeli navy patrols the Mediterranean. The men and women of Israel have, for generations now, been asked to give up the best years of their lives to defend our homeland. Some don’t just lose two or three years, some don’t come home.

We mark other auspicious dates on our calendar — Yom HaShoah, which memorializes victims of the Holocaust, and Yom Yerushalayim, the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem — which commemorate modern Jewish milestones along with more traditional holidays like Chanukah and Purim. Why is it that such a central event that marks the huge price paid for the safety of Israel is not on the radar of so many here?

Let’s change that. Each year the Consulate General of the State of Israel organizes a memorial ceremony at Congregation Adat Ari El on May 8 to honor and identify with those heroes who stood and fell. Please join with me, not just for the people of Israel but for all of us who have benefited from the efforts of these soldiers.

We often talk of ourselves as am echad (one people). I believe that is true. By commemorating Memorial Day together, we will take one more step in enhancing the vital Diaspora-Israel relationship and making am echad a reality.

The ceremony marking Israel’s fallen soldiers will take place May 8 at 7 p.m at Temple Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd. in Valley Village.

Yuval Rotem is Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles.