Against the background of severe incitement and agitation by a haredi splinter group against IDF enlistment from the ultra-Orthodox sector, a Remembrance Day ceremony will be staged Monday in the haredi city of Bnei Brak to commemorate IDF soldiers from the community who died in Israel’s wars.
The ceremony will be held in front of the grave of one such soldier, Pvt. Isaac Levenstein, in the Ponevezh Cemetery in Bnei Brak. Levenstein was killed in 1967 at age 17 when he was ambushed at his post by the Damia Bridge on the border with Jordan.
The service will be attended by Minister-Without-Portfolio Ayoub Kara (Likud), the chairman of the Likud’s haredi faction Yaakov Vider, representatives of the IDF’s Military Rabbinate, soldiers, wounded veterans and bereaved families.
Vider and the Likud haredi faction organized the ceremony, now in its second year, while the Im Tirtzu organization was also set to be in attendance.
A small number of haredi soldiers have been killed in recent times, although most haredi men do not perform military service and only a small number are in combat units.
Haredi men did however serve in the earlier years of the state, some of whom are buried in the Bnei Brak cemetery.
Vider noted that in the current febrile atmosphere surrounding haredi enlistment, those fighting against the phenomenon sought not just to prevent haredi men serving today but to blot out the memory of haredi men who were killed fighting in Israel’s wars.
“Our goal is to remember these haredi soldiers and to remind the community that such people existed and to honor their memory, because they are heroes in our eyes and martyrs, not an embarrassment,” Vider said.
He also denounced the extremist faction that has of late held numerous demonstrations and riots against haredi enlistment and against the detainment by military police of haredi men who failed to even report to IDF enlistment offices to claim their military service exemption.
Vider said, however, he believed the ceremony in Bnei Brak was a sign of progress that the idea of IDF service in the haredi community was becoming more acceptable and that more and more haredi men were open to the idea.
Last year, a small number of extremists picketed the Remembrance Day ceremony and hurled verbal abuse at those participating.
Vider also said the recent violent protests were themselves a sign that the campaign for haredi enlistment was bearing fruit, noting that this very success had spawned the backlash.
Approximately 2,475 haredi men enlisted in the enlistment year July 2015 to June 2016, along with another 875 who enlisted to the civilian service in lieu of military service, representing approximately 40% of the annual cohort of haredi men turning 18 every year.
“These extremists sully the name of the entire haredi community even though they are a small minority, because people see them and simply see haredim, and can’t distinguish between them and the majority of the community who don’t associate with them and respect and appreciate the IDF,” Vider said.
“The more haredi soldiers there are, the more yeshiva students there are who decided to serve the more these extremists are angered, which in a way is proof that we are making progress.”
He also criticized United Torah Judaism and Shas for failing to create a ceremony for fallen haredi soldiers as political representatives from other communities have done.
“We have demanded that such a ceremony should take place, we did not wait around for it to happen, and if the haredi parties really represented the haredi community they would have done this a long time ago,” he said.
Yitzhak Drexler was a friend of Levenstein and studied in school with him when they both lived in Bnei Brak.
Drexler has been visiting his friend’s grave on Remembrance Day for the past 50 years, but was saddened that there were not many visitors to Levenstein’s grave or the several dozen other fallen soldiers buried in the cemetery.
Several years ago he posted on Facebook asking for people to visit the cemetery on Remembrance Day, and yeshiva students from the hesder yeshiva in Modi’in will be visiting this year.
“It’s important to give honor to the memory of these people and that all soldiers be memorialized in this way, that people come and show their respect and appreciation for defending the people and the land of Israel,” Drexler said.
Matan Peleg, CEO of the Im Tirtzu movement, which has advocated for the integration of all sectors of society in the IDF, said the organization “salutes the brave haredi soldiers of the IDF” and would participate in remembering those who gave their lives fighting for the country.
“These soldiers represent the very essence of unity and serve as a prime example of what it means to be a scholar and a warrior,” Peleg said.
The ceremony will take place at 3:30 p.m.
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