Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, began last night at sundown, as Israelis commemorated their fallen with a one minute siren at 8 pm and a ceremony at the Kotel.
Israelis paid tribute to the country’s 23,928 fallen soldiers and terror victims starting on Tuesday evening, bowing their heads for a minute of silence as sirens sounded around the country to mark the start of Memorial Day.
The one-minute siren at 8 p.m. was immediately followed by the state ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. On Tuesday night, additional public memorials will be held, including at Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park and in the Knesset in Jerusalem.
Speaking at the ceremony, Netanyahu said Israel will make “every effort” to return its captives, which include two civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers believed to be held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza.
“This is a sacred mission that we’re not letting go of,” he said.
Speaking at the official state ceremony held at the Western Wall, President Reuven Rivlin said the message of the day was that citizens of the Jewish state must not take it for granted.
“From here, I want to speak to you, the commanders, the soldiers, those soon to enlist, the young generation. I grew up as a child at a time when we did not have a state. For me, for those of my generation, the State of Israel is not something to be taken for granted. This strong and powerful country you see was established by the heroism and dedication of young people of your age,” Rivlin said.
“Today, the task of protecting the State of Israel, is on your shoulders. Remember, without love of the homeland, dedication to mission, aiming for victory, comradeship, purpose, personal example and the purity of weapons, a free people will not be established here. The Israel Defense Force and the State of Israel, we, need you young, strong, united, united, united, determined to lend a hand, determined to continue to prevail, ready when necessary, to pay a price,” he entreated.
The IDF Chief of Staff, Gen. Aviv Kochavi made a remarkable speech which has earned the title “the Three Mothers Speech“. He connects the Jewish Biblical matriarch Rachel with two other mothers:
In his speech, Kochavi recalled three mothers who suffered so that the people of Israel could live and establish themselves in their land.
“The journey of the people of Israel back to their land is an unprecedented event in the history of nations. It is a kind of miracle, even if the current generation sees the country as a natural event. The achievements recorded here from the day the first person stepped on the shores of this blessed land and joined the old Yishuv are extraordinary. It is a journey of faith, determination and creativity, during the entire length of which generations of defenders stood and paid a heavy price price, a price in blood,” Kochavi said.
The Chief of Staff recalled the beginning of the Jewish people’s history. “This journey was not just the Exodus from Egypt but the Exodus from the East and the Exodus from the West. It was an entire people who woke up and started walking, old and young, fathers and mothers, three of whom I want to talk about. The first was our mother Rachel, who did not get to live in her own country, and knew alienation and a lack of belonging. She managed to reach Israel but did not manage to live in it and when her children were forced to depart from Israel they passed by her grave. Most of the life of the Jewish people passed beyond the limits of its land, when the people was insecure, unprepared and repeatedly persecuted and slaughtered. Zionism changed this situation fundamentally. Determined leadership in the face of many difficulties has done an incredible act, swept away and inspired many who have developed into a great people and the State of Israel. We are the generation of children who returned to our borders. We returned to the world in this time, but the return journey was and still is unbearably difficult.”
“The other mother, Nehama, also took action. She left her home in Ukraine and together with her husband Joseph, who fled Nazi Austria, immigrated to the land of Israel to establish a family and a state, changed their last name to Yisraeli and established their home in Kibbutz Dovrat. It was a house saturated with Zionism and values. “A resurrected people need children,” said Nehama – and gave birth to five, two of them sons: Effi and Dedi, were friends in heart and soul. Effie became an officer and instructor in an armored officers course and Dedi followed his brother and became a trainee in that course, the course that did not end. The Yom Kippur War interrupted him and the two brothers were sent to Sinai.
“On the second day of the war, Dedi’s tank was hit, and although he was badly burned all over, he returned to rescue a crew member and only then was he taken to the hospital. His brother Effie remained on the battlefield, and although his tank was hit he moved to another tank and continued to fight. On the 12th, when the IDF was already fighting on the west bank of the Suez Canal, he was hit once more and killed. A familiar knock on the door of an Israeli family’s house, the knock which bodes evil tidings, became the heartbreak which is part of the Israeli story, part of the Israeli pulse.
“Many, too many families, have heard the knock followed by a great outcry, a heartbreak and pain that could not be contained. Dear families, you have lost that which is the most precious of all. All around everything continues to develop and change, and only your sorrow is fortified in its place, deepening its roots and burdens. We try to understand the intensity of the pain and insist on remembering and reminding ourselves to learn from the events and to teach and see them as part of the defenders of the state. For our part, out of a commitment to the current generation of soldiers and their families, we will do everything to send them solely on worthy missions, we will improve the IDF’s capabilities to carry out the missions successfully but no less to guard and protect the soldiers. Tens of thousands of soldiers and commanders now perform an infinite number of missions and return home safely as a result of the professionalism and concern of their commanders. This concern also includes caring for the injured, and a supreme effort to return the captives and missing persons to their families and country.
“The fallen defended the country, and we continue in their shoes. Standing guard. At times, the security that the State of Israel enjoys may seem obvious, but behind every protected and safe day stands an entire army that collects intelligence, prevents intrusion or shooting, raids, attacks, stops threats and prevents weapons and attacks. Even those who are immersed in defense and operational activity do not always see the magnitude of their act, whether it is the soldier who is currently marching on the northern border, as well as the officer who revealed many enemy targets this week, as well as the pilot who returned a few days ago from an attack.
“The security enjoyed by the citizens of the country consists of the achievements of all security organizations and all IDF soldiers, but the first to bear the burden are the combat soldiers and combat units who hold state security on their shoulders. Their actions should serve as an example of good citizenship, an ideal for education, and a role model in every family, school, community and locality. Exemplary organization is also the additional role of the IDF – an army that unites and unites all parts of the people, expresses the common good and is a model to emulate and identify with. IDF soldiers train together, fight together, win together, and when a friend is killed – bury them together.
“I do not know the name of the third mother, but she represents many mothers who fill the land. They have started a family, and their children are fulfilling themselves and continuing to build the State of Israel. They are secular and religious mothers, from the village and the city, Jewish, Druze, Christian, and Muslim – and they have grandchildren and great-grandchildren and they all live in their own country protected and safe. Nehama Yisraeli, the Palmach fighter who lost her two sons who served in the IDF, and whose many descendants served in combat units, is a symbol of values and strength, and is an outstanding example for all of us. I salute her and her family and salute the many families for whom the bitter news has knocked on their door twice. On behalf of all the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, I salute all the bereaved families: mothers and fathers alike, widows and widowers, brothers and children. You all deserve deep appreciation. I salute you, hugging and strengthening you as much as possible,” Kochavi concluded.
You can see some of the speech here:
This past year saw the smallest number of soldiers and victims of Palestinian terrorism, and yet each loss is almost too much to bear, especially for their families:
Three Israelis — a soldier and two civilians — were killed in violent, nationalistic attacks over the course of the past year, by far the lowest number in the country’s history.
This bittersweet distinction comes as Israel on Wednesday commemorated Memorial Day, remembering the 23,928 people recognized as having fallen on behalf of the state since 1873.
Over the past year, 112 names have been added to that list — 43 of them active servicemembers and 69 who were recognized as having died of wounds sustained in wars or terror attacks. Those 112 people includes those killed in accidents or died of illness over the past year, as well as people who died years ago but have only now been officially recognized as having died of injuries related to their military service or an attack.
Of those, only three were killed in violent attacks in the past year: Esther Horgen, Rabbi Shay Ohayon and Staff Sgt. Amit Ben-Ygal.
Horgen was killed on December 20 in a brutal terror attack outside her settlement of Tal Menashe in the northern West Bank. According to the indictment against her suspected murderer, Muhammad Mruh Kabha, Horgen went out for a walk when she was attacked by Kabha, who had been hiding out in the woods outside Tal Menashe, waiting for a victim.
According to the indictment, Kabha ran after her and knocked her to the ground. Horgen, a mother of six, tried to fight him off but he pinned her down and then repeatedly hit her over the head with large rocks, causing her to bleed and breaking bones in her arms and chest, until she stopped moving. Her body was found in the early hours of the next morning after her husband, Benjamin, reported her missing.
Ohayon, a father of four, was stabbed to death in the central Israeli town of Petah Tikva on August 26 by a Palestinian man, Khalil Abd al-Khaliq Dweikat, 46, who had a permit allowing him to work in Israel.
Ben-Ygal, who served in the Golani Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion, was killed during an arrest raid in the Palestinian village of Yabed on May 12. As his unit was moving through the village, a Palestinian man, Nizmi Abu Bakar, allegedly threw a brick at Ben-Ygal, striking him in the face and fatally wounding him. Ben-Ygal was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead of his injuries a short while later.
To conclude this post, Haviv Rettig Gur has written an incredibly moving, elegiac article about Yom Hazikaron: When the whole world weeps:
On Israel’s Memorial Day, we borrow one of the oldest and strangest insights of our religion: that the world is infused and saturated with our emotions. When we grieve, the land grieves, the heavens grieve. The divine itself weeps with us for our fallen children.×
In some of the oldest sections of talmudic literature, the two opposing forces of holiness and impurity so central to Jewish ritual are depicted as real forces in the world, able to move in and out of closed spaces, able to spread, and susceptible to being beaten back by human action. It’s not about cleanliness. A mud-stained child is pure; a sanitized hospital is impure. Impurity is driven by death; a corpse is its original, primal source. Priests, kohanim, may not walk into cemeteries. The meat of death may not be cooked in the milk of life. Two fundamental forces of the human experience are locked in perpetual battle, susceptible at every turn to human intent and action. We can drive back impurity — the symbol and agent and acknowledgement of death — but never defeat it. And we can sanctify our lives, and thus all life, and thus discover that life is the sanctification of the world itself.
That insight is in some ways the beating heart of three millennia of Jewish law and thought.
The world is full of holiness and of contamination, heart-breaking purity and endless despair. We feel it, we react to it, we wade through it as we go about our daily lives and emotions.
In an important sense — forgive me, rabbis, for such a sweeping statement — Judaism is the art of navigating through that world, not the measurable one outside us, but the chaotic one within, the world in which we all actually live our lives.
From our modernized lives, whose measured boundaries are set by stern scientists and anthropologists with their methods and explanations, we are drawn for a day back into the old ways. The world weeps, the air is weighed down with its heavy burden of tears and memory. Our communal world becomes, for a day, what we feel within us.
There’s someone I happen to remember today, the memory unbidden, even unwanted. He has a story, he has a name, but I’m not the sharing sort. I know he is gone, but I know, too, that he hears me remembering. How could he not? The whole world weeps for him at my side.
Read it all.
Let their deaths not be in vain. “In their death, they bequeathed us life”.