image Photo: Flash90

Israel marks Memorial Day

The Jewish State lowered all flags to half-mast in commemoration of the annual Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of the Wars of Israel and Victims of Actions of Terrorism.

By Erin Viner

A two-minute siren sounded across Israel at 11 AM today, as the country stood in silent mourning for total 24,068 fallen IDF soldiers and 4,217 civilian terror victims have lost their lives since establishment of the Jewish “Yishuv” (settlement) of Jewish residents in pre-state Israel during the Ottoman Empire in 1881.

Over this past year, 56 IDF soldiers and 33 civilians were killed, while four Israelis succumbed to wounds they sustained in previous attacks.

Memorial Day also commemorates deceased members of the Israel Police, the Mossad Intelligence Agency and the Israel Security Agency (ISA, also known as the Shin Bet).

State memorial services were held in all 52 military cemeteries nationwide, attended by the bereaved families, public figures and representatives of the government, police and the security forces. The main service was held at the national cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. The “El Maleh Rahamim” prayer is recited and wreaths are laid on the graves of the fallen by representatives of institutions and organizations. The ceremonies usually end with a military gun salute.

The Israel Air Force also performed a special flyover today with a missing member of the formation to honor the fallen.

Commemoration of Yom HaZikaron (Hebrew for “The Day of Memory”) began with a one-minute siren at 8:00 PM last night, followed by a state ceremony held at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site in Judaism near the ruins of both Biblical Temples, attended by the President and the IDF Chief of Staff (see full text of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s speech at the State Opening Ceremony below).

Remembrance of the fallen is observed each year on the 4th of the Hebrew month of Iyar, and comes just one day before Independence Day, emphasizing and symbolizing the connection between the sacrifice of the fallen and the establishment of the State of Israel. Other gatherings and services are held throughout the country in tribute of those lost.

Throughout the day, the public Israeli channel broadcasts in chronological order the names of the fallen. Another ceremony was held at the National Memorial Hall For Israel’s Fallen on Mount Herzl, attended by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, where IDF, police and the prison service officials read out loud the names of their respective servicemembers who fell in the line of duty.

During a special pre-memorial ceremony, IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi commented, “This day calls upon all the people of Israel to unite in solidarity and memory. This day slows the pace of routine and frees time for all the citizens of the state to pause and think about the fallen and you (bereaved families). To pause and unite with the pain that you carry on a permanent basis. This pain does not relax nor relieve, a pain that burns and oppresses, that weighs on moments of joy and obscures any happiness. However, also this (pain) with all of its cruelty, reminds us all that it is also the banner of freedom, security and independence.”

Gen. Kochavi continued by underscoring the IDF’s resolve, in cooperation with the other agencies of Israel’s defense establishment, to guarantee the security of the Jewish State – doing so in perpetual memory of those who have lost their lives in defense of the state.

“In the name of all those (fallen), IDF soldiers continue to stand guard. They are deployed along all of our borders and in threatened sectors; They are stationed in war rooms, surgery rooms and rooms for decoding, in the air, land and sea. They do so in complete cooperation, comprehensive and friendly with all other security establishment organizations and together with them – they are following the enemy and unveil its scheme’s; prevent penetration; intercept rockets and attack beyond the state borders or commence in offensive operations for (Israel’s) defense. The IDF and our defense organizations have the best qualitative tools worldwide. Nevertheless, the basis for everything is the quality of our human resources, the quality of our commanders and the spirit of combat. These are the qualitative edge from which the security of Israel is maintain,” he said.

All top brass of Israel’s defense establishment attended the service, including Mossad Director David Barnea, who stressed that his agency’s servicemembers “endanger their lives daily for the security of the state of Israel.”

“We daily meet in dozens of places around the world the enemy, the one who seeks to harm us,” he said, adding, “We meet the Hezbollah terrorist, the soldiers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the terrorist of the IRGC Quds Force – we reach the most challenging and dangerous places to face the same enemy that would be glad to know that the person standing in front of them is a Mossad servicemember, they would be glad to uncover that the kind and naïve operations servicemember is part of the (Mossad) organization.”

Israel’s Memorial Day concludes with a ceremony at Mount Herzl this evening, marking the start of the nation’s 74th Independence Day when the flag is returned to full staff.

Full Text of President Isaac Herzog’s speech at the State Opening Ceremony for Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Hostile Acts at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem:

The siren that sliced through our lives a few minutes ago is the purest moment in the Israeli calendar. A moment that plucks the cords of our souls. A moment of mighty, bitter grief. Of zikhronot, of malkhuyot, of shofarot. A moment that seeks to open the gates of heaven on Judgment Day, to plead for the People of Israel in judgment. A moment that speaks to the essence of this week, the essence of the State of Israel itself: from the deepest grief to the miracle of independence and rebirth.

The poet Natan Yonatan, who lost his son, First Lieutenant Lior Yonatan, in the Yom Kippur War, wrote thus: “My beautiful son. I keep dying over you, day by day… Day by day, I die over you all over again.” Thus he wrote. So many beautiful girls and boys. The most beautiful. And you, dear and beloved members of this family of grief, keep dying over them day by day.

And there is none to comfort you.

Beloved families, mothers, fathers, widows, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, loved ones, warriors and spouses, wounded veterans and victims of terror attacks, heroes of Israel’s wars, IDF Chief of Staff and heads of the security services, chief rabbis, citizens of Israel, ladies and gentlemen:

Here, at the Wailing Wall, in silence and sacred trepidation, we bow our heads in memory of the sons and daughters, the fallen soldiers of Israel’s wars and victims of terror attacks. From south to north, east to west, members of all communities and sections of society, members of all waves of aliyah, of all religions and faiths. Partners in pride and in pain.

They served together, and their unity was an obvious fact. They were buried in the soil of this good land in the binding uniformity of its cemeteries, and their unity was an obvious fact. We remember them. Their faces, their voices, their rolling laughter. The shells. The mines. The bitter news.

Ehud Shahar, the son of Aliza and Aharon (Artek), was born to a family that had helped to found Merhavia, in the Jezreel Valley. In 1954, when Ehud enlisted in the IDF, he wrote to his parents: “We are becoming better soldiers in the army of our homeland. We shall do our utmost to defend it.”

In February 1955, in Operation Black Arrow, to eliminate terror nests in Gaza, Ehud was shot and killed with seven of his comrades. His mother, Aliza, was forced to break the heart-breaking news to her daughter Michal: “My daughter, we no longer have a brother.” A friend from Merhavia, Ilan Borenovski, carried him on his back from the battlefield back to Israel, to his home, to eternal rest.

Three pairs of parents chose to name their children after Ehud Shahar, of blessed memory: Ehud Shtock, Ehud Falk, and Ehud Borenovski.

The first infant was Ehud Shtock, son of Ruth and Asa, born in the middle of the thirty-day mourning period after Ehud Shahar fell in battle. Soon after him, before the one-year mourning period in Merhavia was over, a son was born to Ehud Shahar’s cousin Adina and her husband Simha. His name was Ehud Falk. Maj. Ehud Falk, an air force pilot, was killed together with Lt. Col. Ram Koller during an aerial exercise over the Judean Desert in the summer of 1988. “He was always more than everyone,” his friends wrote about him after he fell. “The most handsome, the most intelligent, the greatest hero of them all.” He was buried on the grounds of Merhavia, next to Ehud Shahar, his namesake.

When Ilan Borenovski and his wife Deganit had a son, they too decided to name him after Ehud, Ilan’s friend, who had fallen beyond enemy lines, and whom he had carried home, speechless, together with their comradeship. The comradeship that remained alive and well. Udi Borenovski volunteered to join the naval commandos, and on one cold and stormy night in December 1986 was killed in a parachuting exercise. When his father Ilan, having buried his son Ehud and his friend Ehud, meets young soldiers, he tells them, “We have no other country,” and requests: “Do your best to protect it.”

And what of Ehud Shtock? The first born was the last to fall. Udi Shtock, later Sadan, was the chief of security at the Israeli Embassy in Turkey, when a Palestinian terror group planted a bomb in his car. He fell in March 1992, two weeks before his thirty-seventh birthday. I spoke this week with his widow Rachel, who is here with us tonight. She too, like Ilan Borenovski, made the same, emotional request: “Protect our country.”

Three men called Ehud, all named after the same Ehud: Ehud Shahar, Ehud Falk, Ehud Borenovski, and Ehud Shtock-Sadan. Four men called Ehud. Four exemplary characters. Four warriors who with their names, manners, and bodies embodied the intensely Israeli mutual responsibility and solidarity that is passed down the generations. Four of our sons, who together with following generations, just like the generation of Maj. Sammy Ben-Naim, who fell in the Second Lebanon War, and of First Lieutenant Moshe “Moshiko” Asenko Maleko, who fell in Operation Protective Edge, and whose loved ones are taking part in tonight’s ceremony, are passing on the torch of sacrifice and mission. People who were willing to risk their lives for our sake, for the sake of our homeland.

Dear and beloved families, my encounters with you over the years, and especially in recent months, are etched on my heart. The grief-stricken, tired eyes of the father who longs for his son, “devoured by a savage beast” (Genesis 37:20), leave me no rest. The stories of the mother, pride and pain interwoven inside her, unable to find consolation after her son fell somewhere far away, her arms extended as if to hug someone who can no longer hug her back. The sorrow of the young man who lost his warrior sister, his heroine and his best friend. The tears of the young lover whose soulmate has left her, never to return. And like them, so many, many more—far too many—at whose doors grief came knocking, turning their worlds upside down forever. And there is no solace.

Their heartbreak is felt not only for those who once were, but also for those who will no longer be. For their intensely tangible absence, every day of the year, not only on Yom HaZikaron—the Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers.

 Our sons and daughters, who fell in defense of our state, fought together and fell together. They did not ask, nor did anyone ask them, who was right-wing and who was left-wing. Who was religious. Who was secular. Who was Jewish and who was not Jewish. Nor did grief pose these questions, to them or to you. They fell as Israelis, defending Israel. In cemeteries, arguments fall silent. Between the headstones, not a sound. A silence that demands that we fulfill, together, their single dying wish: the resurrection of Israel. The building of Israel. United, consolidated, responsible for each other. For we are all sisters and brothers.

Dear friends, the family of grief. Citizens of Israel. Over the past year, past weeks, and indeed past few days, grief and pain have struck us time and again. Even today, our enemies rise up against us to destroy us with hateful terror, and as always they find us ready and determined, with one hand holding a weapon and the other extended in dialogue and peace. It is precisely in these heart-breaking moments, escorting our heroes and heroines on their final journeys, together with their beloved families, whose pain instantly becomes our own—precisely in these moments, we discover time and again the sheer power of our wonderful and marvelous nation, a nation that knows how to overcome any obstacle. Yes, we do have a wonderful and marvelous nation! Our hearts, punctured by pain, must not be allowed to make us forget the mighty journey that we have undertaken. A journey of generations of wandering, a journey of hope and fulfillment. A journey that culminated with immense pride, with an exemplary state, a state for whose existence the heroes and heroines of Israel’s wars have fallen.

In these hallowed moments, I want to comfort, thank, and embrace, on behalf of the people of Israel, the commanders and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Police, the Shin Bet, Mossad, and of all the defense, intelligence, and internal security agencies, wherever they may be. You protect us day and night, with ferocity of spirit, with a sense of mission, with determination, and with devotion. May God protect you when you go, and when you return, for now and evermore.

My sisters and brothers, citizens of Israel. “A song of ascents: When the LORD restores the fortunes of Zion, we were like dreamers.” So wrote the Psalmist. Tomorrow, at this hour, once again we shall all be like dreamers, as our national flag flies high at the top of the flagpole. It is thanks to them! And thanks to you, the family of grief. This is our duty to the fallen, our duty to you, and our duty to future generations: to sustain a strong and prosperous Jewish and democratic state, built of a dazzling mosaic of communities, which all together constitute, in solidarity, a proud and cohesive nation. Vision, action, and hope.

From here, from the last remnants of our Temple, on behalf of all of Israel’s citizens, I send my wishes for the recovery of the wounded, physically and mentally—those who day by day, hour by hour, must contend with scars and sores, even when they are invisible to others. From here, I pray for the speedy return of our captured and the missing soldiers and civilians, and the task of bringing them back home remains on our shoulders. May the memory of Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of hostile acts remain bounded in the bond of life and preserved in the hearts of our beloved nation, from generation to generation.