The Stories of the Fallen: Young Jews from Around the World Mark Yom Hazikron in Israel | Masa Israel

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The Stories of the Fallen: Young Jews from Around the World Mark Yom Hazikron in Israel

Posted May 10th, 2017

More than 4,000 students and young professionals from around the world came together this week in Israel for one of the country’s most somber holidays – Yom Hazikaron. Gathering just north of Tel Aviv in Ra’anana Park Amphitheater, they honored fallen soldiers and civilians during an annual commemoration organized by Masa Israel Journey, a project of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the government of Israel. Honored guests included representatives of those bodies, and also included representatives of Keren Hayesod - United Israel Appeal (UIA), and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).

 

Honored Guests

Honored guests and representatives pay their respects to Israel’s fallen soldiers during the Yom Hazikaron commemoration at the Ra’anana Park Amphitheater in Ra’anana, Israel, organized by Masa Israel Journey, The Jewish Agency for Israel, and the government of Israel. From left to right: Eliezer (Moodi) Sandberg, world chair, Keren Hayesod-UIA; David Koschitzky, chairman, Keren Hayesod-UIA World Board of Trustees; Dan Lahav, deputy director general, Department of Home Affairs, Planning and Development, accompanied by his wife; Tzachi Hanegbi, minister of regional cooperation and acting communications minister; Natan Sharansky, chairman of the executive for The Jewish Agency for Israel; Alan Hoffmann, director general, The Jewish Agency for Israel; Avital Elfant, educational project manager, Masa Israel Journey; Liran Avisar-Ben Horin, CEO, Masa Israel Journey; Aaron Abramovich, chairman of the board of directors of Masa Israel Journey; and Yossi Bachar, chairman of Israel Discount Bank, accompanied by his wife. Photo credit: Yishai Nazarov.

 

Many of the attendees are in Israel for long-term, immersive internship, gap year or volunteer programs through Masa Israel Journey, and this was the first time they participated in a national gathering in Israel of this scale and significance: it is the country’s largest English-language Yom Hazikaron ceremony, and with simultaneous translations into French, Spanish and Russian, it allowed Jews from around the world to absorb the full meaning of the holiday.

 

For the American participants, the occasion stands in stark contrast to Memorial Day traditions at home, beginning with the sound of sirens ringing across the country. Allie Donahoo, a San Diego native, shared that the Yom Hazikaron ceremony – and the transition to Yom Ha'atzmaut – was transformative. “It is one thing to learn about these holidays in religious school and to hear about it from the shlichim [Israeli emissaries] growing up,” commented Donahoo, who is currently participating in the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows program. “But to experience it first hand, to be in the heaviness of the day and then for it to switch from mourning to celebration, from tears to fireworks, is indescribable."

 

While the ceremony honored all 23,544 who have died defending the State of Israel since the start of the Zionist movement, it highlighted the personal stories of six individuals, whose family and friends spoke throughout the evening, recalling their late loved ones’ dedication to the army, to their comrades, and to preserving Israel’s history and its future.

 

Aaron Abramovich, chairman of the board of directors of Masa Israel Journey, noted in his address:

 

“Our mission at Masa Israel Journey is to give our participants – more than 12,000 young people every year who come to Israel to study, volunteer, develop careers, and develop as individuals – a deep and meaningful Israeli experience. Part of that ‘Israeli experience’ is connecting with what it takes to have our independent homeland – the heavy price so many families pay. And so, you are here with every part of Israeli society tonight to hear the personal stories, and our national story. It is our wish to bring you into the Israeli family, by sharing these stories. These individual stories are a source of inspiration – and so is the very fact of our togetherness here, people from around the world, remembering them."

 

Masa Israel Journey Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Abramovich

Aaron Abramovich, chairman of the board of directors of Masa Israel Journey, delivers remarks during the annual Yom Hazikaron commemoration organized by Masa Israel Journey, The Jewish Agency for Israel, and the government of Israel at the Ra’anana Park Amphitheater in Ra’anana, Israel. Over 4,000 students and young professionals from around the world attended the gathering on April 30, 2017, each of whom are participating in long-term, immersive Masa Israel Journey programs across the country. Photo credit: Yishai Nazarov.

 

Some family and friends of the fallen participated in the artistic segment of the evening, honoring the lives of their loved ones. Stories told included that of Sergeant Michael Levin, a lone solider who was killed during the Second Lebanon War at the age of 22 after making made aliyah from Pennsylvania. Following his death, Michael’s parents founded the Center for Lone Soldiers, which offers a place for soldiers to gather, strengthening their community and connecting them to Israeli society.

 

Sergeant Jordan Bensimon, who made aliyah from France as a teenager, was killed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 at the age of 22. Thousands attended his funeral, and during the Yom Hazikaron ceremony, guests watched a video featuring Jordan’s friends and relatives, to learn more about his short but full life.

 

Sergeant Udi (Yehuda) Algarbali, who fell at the age of 22 while defending his soldiers in combat in Lebanon. Following his death in 1994, his parents founded the Netivei Udi Association, which leads activities that Udi himself once organized, such as hikes for the cadets in the Paratroopers Teleprocessing Corps, where he served.

 

Shlomtzion Landau-Halgua and Aviad Kitsberg

Shlomtzion (Shlomtzi) Landau-Halgua, member of the management committee of Gar’in Udi (Nahal post), and Aviad Kitsberg, graduate of Gar’in Udi, honor Sergeant Udi (Yehuda) Algarbali, who fell in combat, during the annual Yom Hazikaron commemoration organized by Masa Israel Journey, The Jewish Agency for Israel, and the government of Israel at the Ra’anana Park Amphitheater in Ra’anana, Israel. Over 4,000 students and young professionals from around the world attended the gathering on April 30, 2017, each of whom are participating in long-term, immersive Masa Israel Journey programs across the country. Photo credit: Yishai Nazarov.

 

Lance Corporal Hadar Cohen a police officer who was fatally shot just last year at the age of 19 at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, becoming the first border policewoman to be killed in action, was honored by her friend, Corporal Yahav Drori. Yahav described the community center in Or Yehuda, Hadar's home town, which was created in her memory, to inspire young people and serve as a model for their military service. Yahav will soon be a commander in the border police training’s recently renamed unit: the Hadar Company.

 

Sergeant Dimitri (Dima) Levitas, who loved sports, architecture, and music, was killed by sniper fire during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 at the age of 25. Gilad Appelstein, who handed his command over to Dima, recalled how he cared after his soldiers as if they were his own children – soldiers who continue to celebrate Dima at regular music performances that his family holds in his memory on the kibbutz where he grew up.

 

For many Masa Israel Journey participants in the audience, the story of Ezra Schwartz hit closest to home – a Masa participant himself, the Massachusetts native was studying at Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh when he was killed in a shooting attack while traveling to a volunteer program. A film clip screened during the ceremony showed what Ezra loved about his Masa program, Israel, and the Torah, before his life was taken at the age of 18.

 

Government officials and IDF representatives also made remarks, speaking to the participants about their obligation to uphold the memories of all those who have fallen. Speakers included Tzachi Hanegbi, minister of regional cooperation and acting communications minister; Natan Sharansky, chairman of the executive for The Jewish Agency for Israel; and David Koschitzky, chairman of Keren Hayesod-UIA World Board of Trustees, and the aforementioned Chairman Abramovich of Masa.

 

Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the executive for The Jewish Agency for Israel, delivers remarks during the annual Yom Hazikaron commemoration organized by Masa Israel Journey, The Jewish Agency for Israel, and the government of Israel at the Ra’anana Park Amphitheater in Ra’anana, Israel. Over 4,000 students and young professionals from around the world attended the gathering on April 30, 2017, each of whom are participating in long-term, immersive Masa Israel Journey programs across the country. Photo credit: Yishai Nazarov.

 

An evening that started with sounding of sirens and was filled with song and prayer ended with pensive silence, as the crowds filed quietly out of the amphitheater, carrying with them the stories of peers they would never know.