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‘We are one’: Israelis, world Jewry unite at Memorial Day ceremony

Huge banners with “we are one” hung from the stage of the ceremony held in the backdrop of the seven-month-old war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and an uptick in antisemitism worldwide.

The 16th annual Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) Masa Israel Journey ceremony at Yad L’Shiryon in Latrun, Israel, on May 12, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of Masa Israel Journey.
The 16th annual Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) Masa Israel Journey ceremony at Yad L’Shiryon in Latrun, Israel, on May 12, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of Masa Israel Journey.

Latrun, Israel—A hush fell on the packed outdoor amphitheater on Sunday evening at Yad L’Shiryon—the Israeli Army Armored Corp Museum—on the outskirts of Jerusalem for a ceremony at the start of the country’s most somber day of the year: Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day which this year took on added significance.

Under the open sky on a temperate spring night, thousands of participants from around the world had gathered in the fields of the Ayalon Valley that date back to the biblical battles of Joshua and then the modern-day State of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence in remembrance of the fallen Israeli soldiers and the victims of terror.

Huge banners hung on the stage with the words “We are one”—this year’s theme of the country’s largest English-language Yom Hazikaron ceremony, which was organized by the Masa Israel Journey and held in the backdrop of the seven-month-old war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and an uptick in antisemitism worldwide making the event especially poignant.

The 90-minute ceremony, which, like hundreds of others across Israel, got underway following the national siren that sounded at 8 p.m. and pierced the night air, commemorated new immigrants to Israel from around the world who went through the organization’s educational programs and were killed in the Oc. 7 massacre and other terror attacks, and one who is still being held captive by Hamas in Gaza.

Masa Israel Journey Ceremony
The 16th annual Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) Masa Israel Journey ceremony at Yad L’Shiryon in Latrun, Israel, on May 12, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of Masa Israel Journey.

After the Israeli flag was lowered to half-mast by a solider from the ceremonial guard, their stories were shared: rising Sgt. (posthumously) Omer Balava, the American-born combat soldier in the IDF’s Nahal Brigade who fell in battle on the northern border from Hezbollah fire in October; 2nd. Sgt. Rose Lubin, a border police officer who defended a borderline Kibbutz in the Hamas massacre only to be killed in a stabbing attack in eastern Jerusalem in November; and Capt. Denis Krukhamelov-Veksler, a Ukrainian-born combat engineering officer in the Yahalom Unit, Combat Engineering Corps, who fell in combat in Gaza in January at the age of 32.

Amid brief musical interludes, additional stories were told—that of the Peruvian-born doctor, Dr. Daniel Levy, who was killed working to save lives at a border-area kibbutz clinic on Oct. 7; the story of three Dee women gunned down during Passover 2023, and the attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aeries, Argentina, in July 1994 that killed 85 people and wounded more than 300.

“It is precisely at this time that we should feel grateful,” stated Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, in remarks during the ceremony. “Today, the Jewish people have the power to fight back. We don’t need to beg others to defend ourselves. We fight back.”

Masa Yom Hazikaron Ceremony, Ron Dermer
Ron Dermer, Israeli minister of strategic affairs, at the 16th annual Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) ceremony at Yad L’Shiryon in Latrun, Israel, on May 12, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of Masa Israel Journey.

He said that the Jewish world had largely forgotten 20 centuries of massacres and pogroms after half a century when Jew-hatred had largely been pushed underground until the “volcano of Jew-hatred erupted” with the attack of Oct. 7.

“Jew-hatred is reverting back to its pre-Holocaust norms,” he said. “The post-Holocaust period was the exception.”

“This year, Israelis and Jews around the world feel that we are part of a greater story,” said Masa acting CEO Yael Sahar Rubinstein. “This year has been especially hard, but the comfort is we are all here together.”

She said to the sea of participants: “Our source of unity has been proven: We are one. United we will not falter. United we will prevail.”

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