Last week we marked Yom HaShoa, and as of dusk yesterday, we are marking YOM HAZIKARON LEHALALEI MA'ARAKHOT YISRAEL UL'NIFGE'EI PE'ULOT HAEIVAH ("Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims Of Terrorism"). These two days remind us of the painful price the Jewish people paid, and still have to pay for the right to be "a free nation in our homeland". Tomorrow, Israel will celebrate its 71st Independence day. Happiness and sorrow side by side – on one hand, we celebrate Israel's enormous achievements and successes, and on the other hand, we honour the memory of those who made it all possible. The escalation in the South a few days ago, was a harsh reminder that we can take nothimg for granted - life is fragile, and Israel is still targeted by its many enemies.
Every Israeli has lost family members, and/or friends and/or neighbours and commemmerates them in private. On Yom HaZikaron, we all come together to express our collective pain, appreciation and respect for their sacrifice. More than 1.5 million people are expected to visit more than 50 military cemeteries.
The total number of fallen soldiers in the Israeli army is 23,741, tthe National Insurance Institute reported that since the declaration of the state, 3,150 people have been killed in hostile terrorist related actions.
“Our loved ones that fell are diamonds, human diamonds,” PM Netanyahu said at the central Memorial Day Ceremony on Mount Herzl this morning.
This year, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis also attended events to mark Memorial Day at 2 formal events that took place yesterday evening, one in Jerusalem and one in Bnei Brak. Another commemoration for the fallen soldiers that saw the participation of haredi citizens took place in Beit Shemesh. We pray that our WIZO graduates and all the soldiers serving in the IDF be safe. There are in 9,021,000 Israelis today – 74.2% of them are Jewish. In the past year the population grew by 2%.
This evening, Independence Day will commence with the traditional Opening Ceremony on Mount Herzl. The title of Israel's 71st Independence Day is "THE ISRAELI SPIRIT". 16 youth, men and women will light 13 torches. The people chosen to light torches this year, have achieved incredible accomplishments.
They are people who set a personal example of doing amazing things – things which encompass the Israeli spirit which inspires people to work, to change our society for the better.
The 71st Independence Day torch lighters are : Paralympian Moran Samuel, mental health activist Dr. Hila Hadas; singer Yehuda Poliker; director of the Ziv Medical Center Dr. Salman Zarka; filmmaker Avi Nesher; wounded IDF Col. Shai Siman-Tov; Sderot teenager and scout leader Gil Shlomo; soccer star and Ethiopian-Israeli activist Menashe Zalka; Hodaya Oliel, a recent medical school graduate with cerebral palsy; Marie Nahmias, a Holocaust survivor who became a foster mother to dozens of handicapped children; Iris Yifrach, Bat-Galim Shaer and Rachelle Fraenkel, the mothers of the 3 teenaged boys killed by terrorists in 2014 – will light a torch together; Morris Kahn and Kfir Damari, two of the central figures behind the recent IsraeliI attempt to land on the moon, will also light one as a team.
The torch for Diaspora Jewry will be lit by Jeffrey Finkelstein, President of the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, the city that was the site of a deadly antisemitic shooting last year.
“THIS TORCH IS NOT A PERSONAL ONE, I REPRESENT TENS OF THOUSANDS OF SOLDIERS WHO SPEND THEIR NIGHTS AND DAYS PROTECTING THE STATE OF ISRAEL.” said Colonel Siman-Tov, who returned to serve as a commander despite being wheelchair-bound since his injury during a tunnel collapse in 2014. What amazing strength of spirit and passion.!!!!
Iris Yifrach – the mother of Eyal Yifrach, who was murdered alongside Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel in 2014 – said “…WE ARE A PEOPLE WHO KNOW HOW TO CONNECT WITH ONE ANOTHER, TO NOURISH ONE ANOTHER, TO LOVE EACH OTHER AND TO HELP ONE ANOTHER.”
These words and the Israeli spirit also define each and every one of our incredible WIZO members – our passion, commitment and devotion. May WIZO continue to accompany the State of Israel and serve its society for many more years to come – and as they say many times during the Torch Lighting Ceremony - u l'tiferet Medinat Israel (and for the glory of the State of Israel).
President, World WIZO