Israelis in SA on Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut

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South African Jews gather annually to commemorate Yom Hazikaron and then Yom Ha’atzmaut, but it is not quite as personal for us as it is for Israelis living in South Africa. The SA Jewish Report asked a handful of Israelis what they do so far from home on these special days.
by SUZANNE BELLING | May 04, 2017

For Benzie Burstain, who has lived in South Africa since 1980, every Yom Hazikaron brings back the horrors of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

He was the commanding officer of the Israeli troops who moved from the Golan Heights into Syria on the fifth day of the war.

“I remember the Valley of Tears and conquering all the villages until we reached the edge of Damascus.

“We lost a hell of a lot of soldiers and could not even give them a proper burial until months after the war ended, when the Chevrah Kadisha moved them to Israel, giving them the funeral every soldier who dies in action deserves,” he said.

Burstain views the Yom Kippur War as the most critical in the history of Israel since the 1948 War of Independence.

“It was a war of survival - make or break - and we came very close to losing it.”

Burstain attended the Yom Hazikaron ceremony at Yeshiva College on Sunday night and the Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, celebrations with his children the following evening at Huddle Park in Linksfield.

Naomi Hadar, executive director of the Israel United Appeal-United Communal Fund (IUA-UCF), said both the events “are so important in our lives.

“On Yom Hazikaron I remember our best friend, Chanan Ziv, who was killed in Lebanon in 1982. He left a wife, who was pregnant with their third child.

“It is such a significant day,” she said. “Without our soldiers, we wouldn’t have a Jewish state. The soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice to protect it.”

With her husband, Ishi, and her son Liad, she attended the Yom Hazikaron memorial at the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, at which a siren was sounded at the same time as in Israel, to commemorate the fallen.

Nissim Levi, a former combat soldier in the Israel Defence Forces, as was his father, Itzchak, who fought in both the Six Day Way and the Yom Kippur War, went to both Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut events at the Israeli embassy.

“My father and I both lost friends and comrades in the course of action. I try to attend every year, as I think it is very important that our children should know about their Jewish heritage and where the Jewish people come from.”

Some years he spends Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel and next year his son Yuval will be celebrating his barmitzvah there.

He praised the South African Jewish community for its ongoing support of Israel and for organising the event - which was held under the auspices of the South African Zionist Federation.

Ezra Sislosky, who has been in South Africa since 1981 and served in the IDF, said he was fortunate not to have lost anybody close to him.

Living as a South African and feeling part of the country, he said his heart was in Israel and he hoped to return one day. Both his daughters were born in Israel and one of them has returned to live there.

He and his wife Leah (also an Israeli) participated in the Yom Hazikaron commemoration. As a Chabadnik, however, he said he would not be taking part in the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations.

“I do celebrate in my heart and I do sing Hatkivah. I do believe in the State of Israel and it is my intention to go back to live there.”

He is a staunch defender of Israel, He feels that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is the “most destructive thing” that has happened to Israel and “must be neutralised”.

Ido Rieger and his wife Ilana participated on both days. He said part of being an Israeli was that everyone knew friends and relatives who had suffered losses.

He said he was very happy to see how well-organised both events were. “I tend to go to them, but they have a different meaning for me. I think it is extremely important that the world and humanity should not forget [our past].”

He added that South African history should also be remembered, in line with what was happening here today.

“I am very proud of Israel, not only on one day, but throughout the year.”




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