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President Isaac Herzog’s Yom Hazikaron address

Memorial Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars and Victims of Terrorism 5784—12 May, 2024, Western Wall, Jerusalem.

President Isaac Herzog speaks at the Western Wall on Memorial Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars and Victims of Terrorism, May 12, 2024. Photo by Ma'ayan Toaf/GPO.
President Isaac Herzog speaks at the Western Wall on Memorial Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars and Victims of Terrorism, May 12, 2024. Photo by Ma'ayan Toaf/GPO.

Every year, after the sounding of the shofar, there reigns here in the expanse of the Western Wall Plaza a sacred, special silence, preserved only for this moment of the year. But tonight, we have no peace, and there is no silence. Because this year is not like any other year.

This year, in addition to the mourning siren that commemorates our fallen since the beginning of our struggle, a new, prolonged, continuous siren has been added. A siren that began at 6:29 in the morning of the terrible national disaster on October 7, at the height of the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah. And it has continued alongside us ever since. A cry, sharp, piercing. The cry of a nation, the cry of national mourning. “My God, my God, my soul laments, cry out Daughter of Israel, eulogize and weep bitterly. Israel has been devoured by fire.”

I stand here, next to the remnants of our Temple, in torn garments. This tearing—a symbol of Jewish mourning, it is a symbol of the mourning and sorrow of an entire people in this year—a year of national mourning. A symbol of a blood-drenched rend in the heart of the people. A tear in the heart of the State of Israel—shattered, bereaved, crying bitter tears, refusing to be comforted for its sons and daughters—soldiers and civilians, civilians and soldiers. Our voices do not refrain from weeping, and our eyes from shedding tears. A great tragedy has befallen us.

I turn from here, in this holy moment, to our brothers and sisters held hostage, and to their families: Throughout these national days, we never forget that there is no greater commandment than redeeming captives. The entire nation is with you. We must summon courage and choose life. Not to rest and not to be quiet until they all return home.

Beloved and dear families, those wounded in Israel’s battles against its enemies, the defense minister, the chief of IDF staff and the heads of the security forces, ministers and Knesset members, former president of Israel, rabbis, mayor of Jerusalem, ambassadors and diplomats, heads of the representative organizations of the bereaved families, citizens of Israel:

A year ago, I spoke here about Section 9 of Area A in the Mount Herzl National Cemetery—the section of fallen from the War of Independence. Since then, between last Memorial Day and this Memorial Day, the graves on the mountain have increased—one hundred and thirty new graves; and hundreds more graves have been added throughout the country—changing its face. Our face. The pain strikes with force. Just a few hours ago, we brought five of our beloved to their eternal rest. “From Dan to Beersheva, from Gilgal to the sea, no spot of our land has been atoned for without blood.”

A few nights ago, I ascended once again to Mount Herzl. I found myself walking among the graves, in grateful recognition and sacred awe. I felt with unusual intensity the intergenerational connection among the resting places. A connection of longing and heroism, of pain and resilience. A connection of a fighting spirit—“from generation to generation.”

A connection between the fallen of the Yom Kippur War, in Lebanon and Metula, on Ammunition Hill, in Sinai and the Golan Heights, in Beaufort, in Bint Jbeil, in the many battlefields, in intelligence and combat operations, and in the victims of terror since the dawn of Zionism, and from there to the new and numerous graves on Mount Herzl—which have been added to and unfortunately continue to be added to, in sections, yes, many sections—of this heavy, heavy campaign.

Believe me, my sisters and brothers, I would—with all my heart—like to tell about each and every one of our fallen loved ones—from all of Israel’s wars, from all the security forces, from all over the country. About their goodness, their beauty, their bravery. But the fracture is so great, and our losses are too many, too many indeed.

And so, I stand here, in my mind’s eye what a grieving father said to me a few weeks ago: “I hear they’re talking about one of the fallen sons, and I feel as if they’re talking about my son.” That’s what he said. Therefore, in my words tonight, I, in humble supplication, ask to return with you to that same night-time visit to Mount Herzl, to kindle candles of remembrance, and tell a few stories, a few, of some of this year’s fallen.

Each one of them represents in some way the eternal figure of all the fallen of Israel’s wars and hostile actions against us. Each one of them—a mirror of thousands of stories. We will remember, and love and cherish in our hearts—all of them, all of them.

“My soldiers are there and I need to be there,” brigade commander Col. Yehonatan Steinberg said to his wife on the morning of October 7. Yoni, the commander of the Nahal Brigade, encountered terrorists on his way south. He was killed fighting courageously and was buried in the new section on Mount Herzl. “The greatest thing one can do is to protect the people of Israel,” Yoni left recorded words for his son.

Right next to him, I see the grave of Col. Roi Levy, 44, commander of the Multidimensional Unit. Roi, who was seriously injured in Operation Protective Edge [in 2014], recovered, returned to combat, and even got engaged on Israel’s 70th Independence Day.

On that black Saturday morning, he, like Yoni, left from his home, and headed to Kibbutz Re’im. He fought against the enemy until he was shot and killed.

Yoni and Roi are examples of commanders leading from the front, like pillars of fire before the camp. When I saw their graves side by side, I could not help but think of so many heroic commanders we lost in Israel’s wars. Commanders who stormed the front lines and paid the terrible price.

And there, not far from them, lies the grave of Eitan Hadad, a member of the pre-military academy from Kibbutz Be’eri where he grew up and lived. He is now also buried on the mountain. I stand there—in the darkness of the night, in the heart of the mountain—and reflect with astonishment on the long hours of heroic battles in all the towns and communities of the western Negev. Incredible civilian heroism. About all the members of the pre-military academies. About the commanders, lieutenants and ordinary citizens who leaped into the heart of battle, with real courage, and fought—sometimes alone—on the front line, until the last bullet.

Hundreds fell on October 7 and throughout the entire campaign. And in the spirit of the prayer “Unetaneh Tokef’’ recited on Yom Kippur—a few days before the terrible disaster—we gather on this Memorial Day to remember all the victims and fallen—civilians and soldiers who perished: some by fire and some by suffocation, some by sword and some by beast. Some at the doorstep of their home, and some in armored personnel carriers, some in the warmth of their bed and some in the streets, some at a guard post and some on the battlefield, some at a bus stop and some at a police station. Some in a car and some in an armored vehicle, some on the kibbutz pathways, some in the pasture and some at a party, some in the shopping mall and some by missiles and rockets, some in tunnels, and some in hiding. Forever, forever we remember them.

“Generations dreamed of reaching Jerusalem; we have the honor of defending it,” said Bella Levin a year ago—a combatant from the Border Police and a lone soldier. On that black Saturday morning, Bella participated in defending Kibbutz Sa’ad. A month later, she fell when fighting a terrorist in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The police section of the Mount Herzl cemetery where Bella is buried is a section of courage, dedication and heroism—the essence of the Israeli police force, both men and women. I see Bella’s grave and remember all those brave women, soldiers and police officers, observers, fighters and commanders, the heroines of Israel, who sacrificed themselves, stood guard, saved lives, and paid with their lives.

And like Bella, in the Heroism Section of our Mount, there are so many immigrants from the Diaspora and so many lone soldiers. Heroes who embarked on a journey from their homeland to the homeland and took part in “the great campaign to fulfill the aspirations of the generations for the redemption of Israel.” And now they are buried among the hills in the sacred ground of Mount Herzl, and throughout the country.

“The loved ones have carried us without words”, and now grief carries us—and breathes a spirit of battle on the front line and beyond. For example, among the fallen heroes are Golani Brigade Lt. Col. Tomer Greenberg, a native of Kfar Saba and a man of the Jordan Valley communities, whose grave I see on Mount Herzl; and Armored Corps Lt. Col. Salman Habaka, buried near his home in the Druze village of Yanuh-Jat.

On Oct. 7, both of them, Salman and Tomer, fought bravely in the kibbutzim—Tomer in Kfar Aza and Nahal Oz, and Salman in Be’eri. Both fell in battles in the Gaza Strip. “This is Salman, I’m here. … Can I help you evacuate urgently?” Salman’s voice was heard moments before he fell. “Cover me with fire,” Tomer requested from him.

This grief is a covenant—an Israeli covenant. A covenant that transcends faiths and religions, perceptions and ideologies. I cry out here the cry of the Druze and Bedouin bereaved families, who demanded from me and demand from all of us to recognize the right and the privilege to be part of the Israeli story, equal among equals, in the fullest sense of the word.

Every name is a shattered world. Every name is a sacrifice. A void that will never be filled.

Here is the grave of Lavi Lifschitz from Modi’in, who did not want, in his words, to be “an animal of war,” and not far from him—on the same mountain of memory—is the grave of Oriya Ayimalk Goshen, born into a dedicated Zionist family that immigrated from Ethiopia; and Roi Daoui of Jerusalem, who enlisted in Givati following Liel Gidoni, who fell in Operation Protective Edge and is also buried on Mount Herzl. The three of them, Roi, Oriya, and Liel—and so many other fallen—“worldly heroes, with smiles of angels,” left behind final words, including one directive: to smile. Just smile.

There are moments—there, in the new plots—where one’s breath is taken away, and one’s heart is shattered to pieces. Grave next to grave. Noam and Yishai Slutzky.

On October 7, the Slutzky brothers left their wives and children, and—although no one ordered them—hurried to come and fight in Kibbutz Alumim. Together they stormed and killed dozens of terrorists. Together they fell in battle. “The beautiful and the pleasant in their lives and in their deaths is that they were not separated.”

I see their graves and think of so many families that have lost more than one loved one. Of worlds that have been destroyed again and again. And the letters of the verse float in the air—on Mount Herzl, and throughout the land: “Why should you also be cut off, both of you in one day.”

If I could stand here tonight and tell the story of each and every one of our fallen, this year, and over the years, I would. And reluctantly, in pain, I would speak of their portion. Because behind every story, and every candle, burn immense flames of heroism, strength, life and much more.

Citizens of Israel, at this sacred moment, I remind us and the entire world: We never wanted or chose this terrible war. Neither this one nor its predecessors. All we wanted was to return to Zion from which we were forcibly expelled and to renew our freedom there—in a Jewish and democratic state. To build a life here. A future. A hope. We always dreamed of peace and good neighborliness with all the peoples and countries in the region, and no less than that forever. But as long as our enemies seek to destroy us, we will not lay down our sword.

The past few months have been very painful. But during them, we learned about the strength of a wonderful and awe-inspiring people, who rose from the terrible destruction and fought as lions. We discovered fighters—of the IDF and the security forces, aged 18 to 96; in all branches, on all fronts—in the south, in the north, in Judea and Samaria, and in every place. They, who endanger themselves for us, ask simply at all times, that we remember that we are one people. That we be worthy. Only be worthy.

This tear in the fabric, the bleeding rend that we all feel in our hearts this year, cannot remain meaningless. The bereaved families tell me this again and again. The tear in the heart of the people must heal the tear in the nation. This rend is also a call and a cry. A call to action, a call to rise up. Rise up as one people.

From here, I pray for the swift and full recovery of all the wounded, in body and soul. We must support them and their families in the difficult and painful battles for rehabilitation, and in treating their wounds – physical and psychological. I offer strength and embrace on behalf of all of us, the women and men of the IDF, soldiers and reservists who left everything behind and went to the front lines for long months. I offer strength and embrace on behalf of all of us, the police, the Border Police, the ISA [Israel Security Agency, the Shin Bet], the Mossad, the Prison Service, the intelligence units, and all the security forces and internal security, the firefighters, the emergency and rescue services.

I thank them and their families, who sacrifice so much for the sake of the country. The right to defend the security of Israel, the right to serve in the IDF, is a tremendous right. It is not a privilege. It is a right. A tremendous one. A sacred right. May the Lord keep them from harm now and forever.

Bereaved families, beloved and dear. On behalf of the entire people, I am grateful to you. I bow my head in the face of your loss and your courage, and pray that days of light and grace, of comfort, and even joy, will come upon you. We draw so much faith and hope from you.

Two months before Yishai Slutzky fell, his first daughter was born, and her name: Shachar [“Dawn”] Be’eri. Now the name of the little baby girl has taken on a new meaning. “A new dawn will rise over Kibbutz Be’eri and all the surrounding communities”, said Rabbi Shmuel Slutzky, the father of Yishai and Noam who is here with us today. And beside the grave of his beloved sons on Mount Herzl, was added, “The name “Shachar Be’eri” expresses the hope that we will not be destroyed and ruined.”

People of Israel, my sisters and brothers. Even today, deep within the national mourning, I know, I believe with all my heart: A new dawn will rise over all of Israel. By their merit, for their sake, and for ours. May the memory of the fallen of the Israel Defense Forces and victims of enemy hostility against us be preserved in the heart of our nation for generations to come.

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