"There are many memorials in KKL-JNF forests throughout the country. Some enjoy a fantastic view of the scenery, some are the works of artists, some are large, while some are more modest. For me, the Machal memorial in memory of the 121 overseas volunteers who died fighting for Israel's independence in 1948 touches my heart in a special way. What bravery and faith it must have taken to leave the United States, Europe, South America and other countries to come fight in such a difficult war, when the chances of winning were not very high?"
KKL-JNF World Chairman Mr. Efi Stenzler addressed the crowd of over 1,000 people who were participating at the Israel Memorial Day ceremony at the Machal memorial, which is located just off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway at KKL-JNF's Yitzhak Rabin Park. The audience included over six hundred participants of KKL-JNF's World Leadership Conference who had just arrived in the country and Machalniks from all over the world who were in Israel for a reunion on the occasion of Israel's sixtieth anniversary.
The ceremony began with the two minute siren in memory of Israel's fallen that was heard throughout the country, followed by the lighting of the Memorial Flame by two Machal veterans. Two wreaths were then laid on the memorial, the first by Machal veterans, the second by Mr. Yitzhak Krechevsky, a member of KKL-JNF's Board of directors who fought on Burma Road in 1948, and Mr. Issy Baran, a member of the KKL-JNF Board in Finland, who was also a Machal volunteer in 1948.
After Mr. Stanley Medicks, chairman of Machal UK and Scandinavia, read the names of the 117 men and 4 women who lost their lives in the War of Independence, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler talked about the critical part Machal volunteers played in Israel's victory: "The 3,500 Machal volunteers, Jews and non-Jews, were highly professional volunteers who had fought in World War II and influenced the war's outcome - The famous Mickey Marcus, for example. When he came, he found the soldiers dejected and desperate. He got them on their feet, told jokes and changed their whole attitude.
"The Machal memorial is located in the heart of the Burma Road, which was a lifeline for Jerusalem, and has now been transformed into a green forest by KKL-JNF. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin appreciated the Machal volunteers and never forgot them. He was here for the dedication of the memorial in 1993, and at that time he paid tribute to Machal's contribution to the Israeli victory in the following words: 'You came to us when we needed you most, during those hard and uncertain days of our 1948 War of Independence. You gave us not only your experience, but your lives as well.'
"KKL-JNF and all the people of Israel owe you a great debt. I salute you."
Dr. Sharon Markovitz-Hart, President of KKL-JNF Canada and Co-Chairperson of the World Leadership Conference, said that her connection to the Jewish state began with her grandfather and grandmother, who were Second Aliya pioneers: "I am truly humbled to stand here with you. Today, on the occasion of Israel's sixtieth anniversary, we honor your passion, your determination and your belief in the justice of our cause and the redemption of our homeland. All these years, a steady stream of volunteers has followed in your footsteps. You were instrumental in the creation of the Israeli Air Force, and you provided the Israel Defense Forces with its first naval commander, radar technicians, tank commanders, eye specialists, to mention only a few. Machal volunteers played a central role in facilitating Aliya Bet, the immigration of 32,000 immigrants, many of them Holocaust survivors whom were not allowed to disembark on Israel's shores by the British. It is you who made the sixtieth anniversary of Israel possible, and on this special day when you will be celebrating your world reunion, on behalf of KKL-JNF and the entire Jewish people - thank you."
Together with Ms. Hart, Mr. Stenzler presented a special KKL-JNF Certificate of Honor to Mr. Smoky Simon, Chairman of World Machal. He also thanked the soldiers who stood at attention throughout the ceremony, all volunteers from overseas who enlisted in the IDF, following in Machal's footsteps.
World Machal Chairman Mr. Smoky Simon reviewed the military history of the War of Independence and highlighted Machal's role, and also reminded the audience of the cause of the hostilities: "On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition what was then Palestine into two states, one Jewish, one Arab. Israel accepted immediately, the Arab countries refused. Abdul Rahmam Azam Pasha, the chairman of the Arab League, threatened that 'if the Zionists dare to declare their state, we promise them a massacre that will dwarf the efforts of Genghis Khan and Hitler, a massacre that will go down in history as greater than that of the Crusaders.'
"Machal volunteers came from 46 countries. Of Israel's first 450 pilots, 425 were Machal volunteers. David Ben Gurion said that they were the Diaspora's most important contribution towards Israel's survival, and the present-day IDF Chief of Staff, Major General Gabi Ashkenazi, asked me to convey to you that he will never forget Israel's debt to Machal and its contribution to the eternity of the Jewish people and Israel.
"On behalf of World Machal, I would like to thank KKL-JNF, which has supported us, accompanied us and created this site and memorial here on Burma Road."
Towards the conclusion of the moving ceremony, the words of the prophet Ezekiel that were quoted by Rabbi Efraim Shach reverberated throughout the forest: "So says the Lord God: Behold, my people, I will open your graves and bring you up out of your graves, and I will bring you to the Land of Israelâ€¦I will place My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land." (Ezekiel 37:12-14)
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