Program connects students to Mt. of Olives graves

April 22, 2012 22:46

Hundreds of graves belonging to soldiers who have no descendants or family in Israel will be bare of flowers and memorial candles this year.

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Mount of Olives Cemetery

Mount of Olives Cemetery 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

More than a million Israelis are estimated to visit cemeteries this week ahead of Remembrance Day, in honor of more than 22,993 fallen soldiers. Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem will become a mass of humanity as friends and families crowd around the graves of loved ones.

But despite the crowds at the cemeteries, hundreds of graves belonging to soldiers who have no descendants or family in Israel will be bare of flowers and memorial candles this year. One Jerusalem group is working to make sure that the names of these soldiers are not forgotten.

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Youth for Jerusalem is spearheading the new “Adopt a Fallen Soldier” program to encourage high school students to learn about a single soldier buried on the Mount of Olives and visit their grave on Wednesday morning.

Many of the soldiers were Holocaust survivors who were the only remaining member of their family and were killed fighting in the War of Independence.

The project was born after Hila Zisberg took a tour of the cemetery with the Mount of Olives Information Center.

The ancient Jewish cemetery overlooking the Temple Mount is better known as the burial site of famous rabbis, including Rabbi Avraham Kook, and former prime minister Menachem Begin.

Zisberg was surprised to learn that there are also 228 soldiers buried in the cemetery, most of whom died in the War of Independence, and many of whom were Holocaust survivors with no family in Israel. When the staff at the Information Center mentioned that very few people visit these graves, she decided to take action to ensure that the country does not forget the story of a single soldier on Remembrance Day.

“We want to say their names out loud on this day so they won’t be alone,” she said. “Because so many years have passed and they didn’t have children, this year we decided to worry about them, each and every one of them.”

Zisberg partnered with the Information Center and a number of area high schools in Jerusalem, including Boyer High School and the Israel Arts and Sciences High School. More than 170 students have signed up thus far.

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Each student will be responsible for researching one soldier buried on the Mount of Olives, and presenting information to a small group on Wednesday. Zisberg also hopes the public will attend the memorial services on Wednesday to bring the story of these soldiers to an even wider audience.

The Mount of Olives also hosts an official government memorial ceremony on Wednesday, where Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin will speak.

Rivlin welcomed the Youth for Jerusalem initiative and expressed hope that it will expand to additional sites across the country where soldiers with no descendants are slowly being forgotten.

“There is nothing like the Mount of Olives to symbolize the stories of continuity and loyalty to the land of Israel,” Rivlin said in a statement released by his office.

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