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Commemorating Yom Hazikaron with Israel and the world

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JORDAN MOSHE

This is what Cheryl Mandel, said on Monday night, as she addressed her son, Daniel, who gave his life to defend the state of Israel. This Canadian mother said these words in an international online Yom Hazikaron ceremony. Like thousands of others, her Daniel didn’t come home. By making the ultimate sacrifice, he, like others, leaves a void that can’t be filled.

Jews around the world honoured 23 820 Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers and 3 149 people who died in terror attacks in the online ceremony. Uniting Israel and the diaspora, the poignant ceremony was hosted at the Yad La-Shiryon memorial site in Latrun, Israel, by Masa Israel Journey (an Israeli organisation that enables young diaspora Jews to experience Israel), and broadcast globally.

Thousands of viewers from around the globe paid tribute to Israel’s fallen, observing a moment of silence as a piercing siren wailed in homes across Israel, South Africa, and beyond. As the flag was lowered and the last post sounded, Jews were united from afar and joined collectively in their grief in spite of being confined to their homes.

“On this day, we all wish to remember, to feel, to unite,” said Maya Yohanna Menachem who hosted the event. “For the bereaved families, today amplifies the pain felt daily. It’s a painful reminder of their grief and the unfathomable sacrifice of their sons and daughters.

“Tonight, we stand together with the bereaved families, hurting as one nation, hurting as a people, in Israel and the diaspora. The whole world really does feel like a very narrow bridge.”

The ceremony included the lighting of a memorial candle, laying memorial wreaths, and musical performances. The Israeli government, diaspora communities, and the Jewish Agency for Israel shared recorded messages.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin explained that in Israel, joy is often tinged with sadness. “Laughter and tears go hand in hand,” he said. “We celebrated the founding if the Jewish state while grieving for our sons who lost their lives in battle.

“Today, 72 years later, we still bear pain alongside the joy, memory beside hope. We become excited at the sight of the blue and white flag while at the same time, we remember the dear ones who gave their lives for us. The possibility of living here in peace and security is only thanks to them, and for that they are imprinted on our hearts forever.”

Central to the ceremony was the commemoration of soldiers who emigrated to Israel from across the diaspora to serve in the IDF. Poignant words were shared by the mothers who lost their children, among these Cheryl Mandel, who recalled the moment she learned that her son had been killed.

“There I was, Passover eve, and at seven o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the door. I opened the door, and there were these three soldiers. They say, ‘Are you the parents of Lieutenant Yakov Mandel? He was killed this morning in battle, in Shechem.’ That’s it. Your whole life changes.”

Argentinian Alicia Hofman, whose son Alejandro was killed at the age of 19 in a helicopter disaster in 1997, said that for 19 years, she had the privilege of raising a happy child. “When he would come home, as big as he was, he would sit next to me, put his head on my shoulder and say, ‘Stroke me, mom’,” she recalled.

She remembered the day he died. “We used to live on the Lebanon border,” she said. “When I heard ‘noise’ in Lebanon, I knew the phone would ring, and he would tell me, ‘Mom, everything is OK.’ [One day] ten minutes passed, the phone didn’t ring. Then, we knew it wouldn’t ring.”

Israeli mother Varda Pomerantz said she drew strength from celebrating her son’s life every year. Daniel Pomerantz fell during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

“I’m doing what he would expect me to do, starting with his request to commemorate him in a special way and make a party of it each year,” she told the massive audience around the world.

“[People say] what party? How can you have a party for a dead child? You just do it. It’s about getting up each morning to do something good for someone. That is what Daniel would expect me to do.”

The volunteers who arrive in Israel from abroad to defend the Jewish state are part of a unique legacy, said Isaac Herzog, the executive chairperson of the Jewish Agency. “My late father, Chaim Herzog, always recalled the bravery of the many foreign volunteers and new immigrants who gave their lives in the fight to save Jerusalem and liberate it.

“Many of you young soldiers of today are following in their footsteps,” he said. “Since 1948, young Jews have continued to come from around the world to help defend the Jewish homeland. Many have paid the highest price of all, and today we mourn with their families and friends, and remember their smiles, their voices, and their dreams.”

Herzog believes that these men and women embody the foundational value of mutual responsibility between all members of the Jewish family. “I know that these virtues are alive in you, the participants and friends of Masa, who every day contribute to Israeli society,” said Herzog. “Mutual responsibility and unity are the key to our strength and resilience.”

“On this Yom Hazikaron, as we feel unending pain at the loss of those who fell, we recommit to the values for which they stood. May they continue to serve as a guiding light to all us,” he said.

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