Israelis stand in silence next to the graves of soldiers in the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, as a two-minute siren sounds across the country on Memorial Day, April 25, 2023. Photo by Erik Marmor.
Israelis stand in silence next to the graves of soldiers in the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, as a two-minute siren sounds across the country on Memorial Day, April 25, 2023. Photo by Erik Marmor.

Yom Hazikaron 2023

Israeli leaders speak out on Memorial Day

“We must do everything to safeguard this shared home,” said Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose brother Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu was killed in action during the Entebbe rescue raid in 1976, released a short video on Facebook for this year’s Memorial Day.

“I learned a lot from Yoni but I don’t who Yoni learned from. I remember I was 12 and he was 15. [Our other brother] Ido was 9 years old and we were sitting in the living room of our home,” Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“I shared a dilemma with him. I told him that I was with another person in the desert and there is one canteen and in order to survive, one must drink the full canteen. What should you do, drink it or give it to the other person? Yoni thought for a second and then he said: It depends on who the second person is. If it is Ido, I will give him the canteen.”

During his speech at the memorial ceremony at Yad Labanim in Jerusalem on Monday, the prime minister said: “This year, after losing wonderful pairs of siblings, the feeling of being brothers must be sharpened,” referring to a series of recent terrorist attacks.

Lucy Dee, and her daughters Maia and Rina, were murdered by terrorists two and a half weeks ago. Netanyahu declared, “This attack, this place and this moment remind us that the Land of Israel and the State of Israel were brought and are being brought with great suffering. We established a glorious country with a glorious army and a glorious police force at a heart-breaking price.”

Rattles our souls

In his speech at the Western Wall memorial ceremony in Jerusalem on Monday night, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog proclaimed: “The siren that pierced the silence right now, making its way from one end of the land to the next, rattles our souls and makes way for remembrance, which overwhelms us with silence.

“I ask myself, I ask us: What other country in the world has such a special sound? It is the sound of pain and of hope, of grief and of pride. It is the sound of the State of Israel. A sound that calls on us to pause for a moment, to lock in the sanctity, to remember and to connect—together,” the president continued.

“This year, in the grips of these days of discord, this sound is more powerful, more searing, more pained and more painful than ever. This year, more than ever before, this sound calls on us, in the heart of the stillness that cries out: all of us, together! Their sacrifice has not been in vain; it shall never have been in vain.”

He continued, “I appeal to you, my brothers and sisters, citizens of Israel, at this sacred moment, from here, the wall of longing and tears, from which the Divine Presence has never moved, and I ask us to mourn and grieve—together; may we let that feeling of longing envelop us—together. May we let that sound of our collective pain ring loudly on this Memorial Day, free of discord, as we cry for our sons and daughters. As we refuse to find comfort, for they are no more.”

In his speech, Herzog spoke about the people who died in the 1948 War of Independence and are buried in Lot 9 Area A at the Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem.

“At the entrance to the lot, in the first row, above the first grave, stands in silence the headstone of the youngest fatality in the lot: Private Yosef Zvi Strauss,” he said.

“Strauss, born in Hungary, a young man, haredi, a refugee from the Holocaust, joined the youth movement of Agudas Yisroel, made aliyah on the ‘Latrun’ clandestine immigration ship, was expelled to Cyprus. He persisted and he returned. He was a student at the Kol Hatorah Yeshiva in Jerusalem, and with his rabbis’ blessing, he enlisted in the war effort and fell in battle around Armon Hanatziv, aged only 17,” the president said.

Next to him is buried Yosef Ahrak, “who made aliyah from Yemen, three years before he was killed defending the Mea She’arim neighborhood of Jerusalem. ‘He dreamed of building a new life in his beloved homeland,’ Yosef’s family wrote about him, as he left behind a young wife and a baby a few months old,” Herzog continued.

“A line thus stretches from Hungary to Yemen, and from both of them to Jerusalem: to Lot 9,” he said.

Next, Herzog spoke of the fate of Private Rachel Seltzer Reis and her mother, Ada.

“Ada was separated from the apple of her eye, her daughter Rachel, when they escaped the Nazis. Years went by, the Nazi butcher butchered, and mother and daughter met again here in Jerusalem, against all the odds. Rachel enlisted, fought in Gush Etzion, and fell as a Lehi [Stern Group] fighter in the ‘Rooftop of Death’ [battle] near the Old City [of Jerusalem]. When Ada was informed about her daughter’s death, she said: ‘I already know.’ Three months later, she too was dead, dead of a broken heart. The headquarters of the Haganah announced: ‘Mother of the Sick and Injured—Dead!’ ” the president said.

“Lot 9 and all the military cemeteries show us clearly over the years that our fallen heroes—Jews, Druze, Muslims, Christians and Circassians, women and men, immigrants and native-born Israelis, from all across the land, from all beliefs, opinions and worldviews, gave their lives out of a commitment to a profound existential necessity: building together, in partnership, more and more floors of our Israeli home,”  said Herzog.

“We must do everything—everything!—to safeguard this shared home. To argue and disagree, like always, with all the fervor and passion, but to love one another as sisters and brothers, for we are one people! Dearly beloved families, mothers and fathers, girls and boys, grandmothers and grandfathers, sisters and brothers, you whose hearts are full of love. The grief is boundless, the pain, immeasurable. To silent sobbing, there can be no response. You are in our hearts and thoughts all year round, and especially on this day,” the president said.

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