In the heart of Ayalon-Canada Park, on the road that ascends to Jerusalem, stands a special forest. This forest was planted to commemorate the American and Canadian Jews who fell defending the State of Israel or were victims of terror. The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) holds a memorial ceremony every year to commemorate the more than 300 immigrants and tourists from North America who lost their lives in the wars of Israel or in terror attacks. At the ceremony, new names are mentioned, names that have sadly been added to the list of the fallen.
This year, the ceremony was attended by US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, the First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy, Nathan Naidoo, and the families of those being commemorated.
“It is an honor for me to stand here today in this beautiful forest and honor the memory of our citizens and our loved ones,” said the US Ambassador. “The trees planted here serve as a living monument and represent our common values.” US Ambassador Shapiro emphasized the commitment of the United States of America to the right of Israel to exist in security and peace alongside its neighbors. He concluded with a prayer in Hebrew. “May he who makes peace in His heavens grant peace to us and to all of Israel, Amen.”
Dean Luken, brother of Kristine Luken, unveiled the names that were added to the memorial wall. Donna Grushka, representing the Memorial Ceremony Committee, spoke about the people behind the names. David Kandelman, who died in a training accident during his army service in 2011; Ben Yosef Livnat, who was killed in 2011 by Palestinian Authority police gunfire, after praying at the Tomb of Joseph; Kristine Luken, who was killed in 2010 by Palestinian terrorists as she hiked in a forest near Jerusalem; and Ariel Ovadia, who fell in 1994 in combat with terrorists in Lebanon.
Asa Cohen, President of the AACI, addressed the audience: “We ask ourselves, why did it happen? We chose to come to Israel, a land full of challenges, and it is very important that we continue to honor those who lost their lives.” He concluded with a wish to be able to "seal the memorial wall and never fill the empty space left on it with any new names.”
Memorial wreaths were placed by Lt. Col. Beni Broshi, representing the IDF; by US Ambassador Shapiro and First Secretary Naidoo, representing the governments of the United States and of Canada; and by Yael Gladstone, the sister of terror victim Jonathan Jesner, representing the youth groups.
The Master of Ceremonies, Barry Erenstoff of the AACI, said, “Every year we hope we will not have to add any more names to the memorial wall, but unfortunately we have not been granted this yet.”
The sad and moving ceremony took place against the beautiful landscapes of Ayalon-Canada Park, which was restored and developed with a contribution from friends of KKL JNF in Canada. The park covers an area of 700 hectares between Shaar Hagai and Latrun, and is full of natural woodlands, planted forests, orchards and fascinating historical sites—an aqueduct, burial caves, secret tunnels, a crusader fortress and church remains. KKL JNF has constructed scenic roads, observation points and many recreation areas throughout the park.
In his address, Andy Michelson, KKL JNF Chief of Protocol, noted that KKL JNF has been caring for Israel's nature for the past 110 years, so that its landscapes would be more beautiful and more enjoyable for all its inhabitants. “It is very important for us to honor the memory of those who fell for the sake of the State of Israel,” he said.
Members of the Leinwand family, the family that had adopted David Kandelman, lit the memorial torch. Wendy Bar-Yakov, granddaughter of Max Cottin, who died in the 1938 Arab riots, and AACI Board member Judy Anne Cohen read the prayer for peace in Israel. Tziki Aud and Yehoshua Flaster, from the Lone Soldiers Center, recited a prayer for the soldiers of the IDF. Rabbi Yakov Karzen, and Julian Landau, father of fallen soldier Yair Landau, read from the Book of Psalms.
The younger generation was represented at the event by members of Young Judea, a youth movement which brings American and Canadian high school graduates to Israel for a one-year program, in which they volunteer, tour and learn about Israel first hand. Tali de Groot and Ari Kirsh, members of Young Judea, read the beautiful poem by Nathan Alterman, The Silver Platter.
David Breakstone, Vice Chairman of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), was the keynote speaker at the ceremony. Breakstone spoke about the connection between the binding of Isaac and Zionism, and compared the sacrifice Abraham was willing to make because of his faith, to the sacrifices made by the families who had lost their loved ones because of Zionist ideals.
“As Yom Kippur approaches, we contemplate the meaning of life, as individuals and as a community,” said Breakstone. “It is not good to die for our country, but after two thousand years of exile, it is good that we have a country worth dying for. If our loved ones were ready to die for us, we must be ready to continue living for their sake. Let us remember them by upholding the ideals they believed in. Let us all pray that the families who mourn may ever be consoled by knowing that all of us are able to continue living and dreaming here because of the sacrifice they made.” Breakstone concluded his speech by blowing the shofar, to open the gates of heaven.
The event was concluded with the kaddish prayer recited by Noam Livnat, father of Ben Yosef Livnat, and the singing of Hatikva.
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