President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday mourned Israel’s fallen soldiers, but urged their grieving families to consider what the sacrifice of their loved ones had meant.
Speaking at the torch-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall as Israel began its observance of Remembrance Day to honor 23,320 fallen soldiers and civilian victims of wars and terrorism, Rivlin told of his travels during the summer to the homes of bereaved families of soldiers who fell during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
“I learned to know them too late, when they were already gone,” Rivlin said, explaining that those who perished came from all sectors of Israeli society.
“This summer I learned how real the loss is, that there is no longing that matches it,” Rivlin said.
However, we cannot stand above their graves and mourn their loss if we do not consider the meaning of their sacrifice, the president added.
“We are not people of war. We did not go to war bloodthirsty, neither this summer nor ever,” he said. “We were forced to fight, and our children have been fated to do the same to defend our home.”
Rivlin said Israel was obligated to try to prevent future wars, but was also obligated by the deaths of its sons and daughters to do all in its power to arrive at the next war ready.
“We must continue to live for the memory of our dear ones that we have lost,” Rivlin said.
“They [our enemies] have tried to erase us off the face of the earth, but we have survived.
“However, Israel has not sufficed with mere survival. We believe in life, in the vision of a free people, a society that values tradition alongside modernity,” the president said.
“We are obligated by their deaths to build a more moral home, where all its members are equal. That is our obligation to their heroism, to their lives that are no more,” he said.
At the Knesset, hundreds of bereaved families gathered to hear poems recited and songs sung in honor of their relatives who made the ultimate sacrifice for Israel, at the annual “Remembering Through Song” ceremony.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who lives in Gush Etzion, opened the poetry readings with “Here Lie Our Bodies,” by Haim Gouri, a poem about the 35 soldiers who were killed trying to reinforce the besieged Gush Etzion region during the War of Independence. Edelstein was introduced by a bereaved father who said he constantly imagined what his son would have looked like today.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu read the lyrics to “A letter from Yoni,” a song by Ehud Manor based on a letter written by the prime minister’s brother, Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed leading the mission to rescue Israeli and Jewish hostages from Entebbe, Uganda in 1976. Singer Idan Amedi then performed the song.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon read a letter from his relative, Sec.-Lt.
Hadar Goldin, who fell in Operation Protective Edge, to Goldin’s commanding officer about two soldiers who served under him. The first was an immigrant from Ethiopia from an underprivileged family, whom Goldin made an effort to help, helping them get a refrigerator and furniture for their home in an absorption center.
The second did not want to be a combat soldier, and Goldin tried to inspire him to serve his country meaningfully.
IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen.
Yair Golan and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino recited poems about and by fallen soldiers.
An IDF band sang a medley of songs inspired by Israel’s wars, like “Be my friend, be my brother” from the Yom Kippur War, “I have no other land” from the First Lebanon War, and “A million stars” from the Second Lebanon War.
The Revivo Project, Rotem Cohen, Ariel Horowitz, Shai-Li Atari, IDF Cantor Lt.-Col. Shai Abramson and the IDF Rabbinate Band, and other IDF bands performed songs inspired and written by fallen soldiers.
St.-Sgt. Max Steinberg, St.-Sgt. Jordan Ben-Simon, and Sgt. Sean Carmeli, new immigrants and lone soldiers who were killed in Operation Protective Edge, were among those memorialized in videos played between musical performances and poetry recitations The Steinberg family took part in the ceremony as guests of the Defense Ministry, which flew them in from Los Angeles. Tens of thousands of Israelis attended their son’s and Sean Carmeli’s funeral last summer in a national demonstration of solidarity after hearing he did not have family in Israel.
The ceremony also included a screening of an interview with the mothers of the three teens who were kidnapped and murdered in Gush Etzion last summer, as well as the story of the Dakar submarine, which disappeared at sea in 1968, told by its captain’s grandson, who is currently completing a submarine commander’s course with distinction.
At the Western Wall, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot spoke following Rivlin, saying that the Western Wall symbolizes “the Jewish people’s magnificent history and our ability to build and be built, to defend ourselves and to fight for our existence as a united, independent, and steadfast people.
“Here we will remember our fallen brothers, and from here we will issue the call: The Jewish people will remember its sons and daughters, the loyal and the brave, the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.”
Eisenkot said the IDF is a true “people’s army,” which takes its members from all sectors of society and then feeds them back into society to contribute again as citizens.
“The secret of the Israel Defense Forces lies in it being an inseparable part of Israeli society,” he said.
Eisenkot sympathized with the pain of the families of the soldiers who fell during the past year.
“Additional names have been etched on the stone tablets, the names of the best of our sons, daughters – commanders and soldiers. The names of those dear to you, including those who fought bravely in Operation Protective Edge, are etched into our hearts,” he said.
Of the 116 who lost their lives over the course of the last year, 67 soldiers and five civilians were killed during Operation Protective Edge last summer, leaving behind 131 bereaved families, 11 widows, 26 orphans and 187 bereaved siblings. Two soldiers were killed in a Hezbollah missile attack in January. In addition, 35 IDF disabled veterans who died of their wounds have been recognized as IDF fallen soldiers this year.
“The loss and the hole that has been left will never be filled,” Eisenkot said to the bereaved families. “However, in bearing your grief and in your journey through life, you are not alone – and you never shall be,” he added. The IDF and its commanders will always be there to support and accompany the bereaved families – to remember and never forget, Eisenkot vowed.
The chief of staff promised to continue to increase the preparedness of the IDF to deal with the threats that still challenge the Jewish state 67 years afters its founding.
“Because of the fighting spirit of the fallen soldiers, on the eve of Israel’s 67th Independence Day we can be proud of the great military strength that grants security to the residents and citizens of Israel and ensures its continued existence,” he said.
In Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, a series of top Israeli singers took the stage throughout the evening, singing songs of longing and loss in the center of Tel Aviv, often derided for being a “bubble” detached from the conflict.
“It’s the same longing, like a dybbuk, like a flame it spreads across me everywhere – you, you, you”, artist Miri Misika sang Tuesday night before a crowd of bereaved loved ones and bystanders who came by the thousands to the square.
Operation Protective Edge was mentioned often in memorial videos for the soldiers who died this year, after months in which the war was largely absent from the national discussion, even during the national election last month when this same square filled with political rallies.
On Tuesday night the square bore witness to the stories of the young men who died over the summer, told by their family and friends in videos projected to the crowd of thousands.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.