Rivlin hosts Independence Day ceremony honoring outstanding soldiers

Prior to the ceremony, they all lined up for honor guard inspection by Rivlin and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi near the entrance to the presidential complex.

May 9, 2019 18:40
President Rivlin at the traditional Independence Day ceremony honoring outstanding soldiers

President Rivlin at the traditional Independence Day ceremony honoring outstanding soldiers. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Parents make many sacrifices for their children, including getting up at some ungodly hour to travel a long distance and sit around and wait. This was the case with several parents whose sons and daughters were among the 120 outstanding soldiers honored at this year’s Independence Day celebrations at the President’s Residence.

Coming from kibbutzim, moshavim, settlements in Judea and Samaria, development towns, haredi enclaves and Arab and Druze villages scattered from the northernmost to the southernmost parts of the country, the soldiers had been in Jerusalem for several days rehearsing for the various events in which they were participating, but not all their parents had that luxury.


As early as 6 a.m. on Thursday morning there were cars parked along the length of the street outside the President’s Residence as well as in the side streets, and not long afterward there were many cars illegally parked on the pavement because there were no other options.

Due to security considerations, given that participants included the president, one present and one past prime minister, present and past chiefs of staff, and present and past defense ministers, invitees were asked to come especially early and were warned that the gates would close at 8:15 a.m., even though the event did not begin till 9:30 a.m.

One man whose grandson was among the outstanding soldiers came from north of Haifa, only to be told that his name was not on the list and he couldn’t be admitted. The man remained calm, but his wife was very upset because her name was on the list. Security agents assigned to different dignitaries were standing at the entrance, and in long consultation with each other decided not to deprive the man of his moment of pride in his progeny, and let him in. It was one of the few occasions in Israel when bureaucracy didn’t go against the little guy.

There are always foreign-born young men and women among the outstanding soldiers, and this year was no exception. But there was a difference. In the past, the foreign-born soldiers were overwhelmingly from Russia. This year, there were only two Russian-born soldiers, though there were others born in the former Soviet Union, namely Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. However, the most foreign-born soldiers this year came from the United States and France, with five from each country. There were also soldiers born in Italy, Canada, Guatemala, Ethiopia and Britain.

Perhaps because this a year in which special efforts are being made worldwide to absorb people with disabilities into mainstream society, there were several people with mental or physical disabilities among the 120 outstanding soldiers.

Each of such soldiers was entitled to an exemption, but fought to be accepted into the Israel Defense Forces, which would have been laudatory under any circumstances but particularly at a time when the formation of the next government may hinge on whether haredim will be exempted from army service. Not all haredi young men would want to be exempted. In fact, there were a couple among the outstanding soldiers.

Altogether, the group comprised 74 male soldiers, of whom 11 were officers, and 46 female soldiers, of whom eight were officers. The females also included religious young women who are serving in combat units.

Prior to the ceremony, they all lined up for honor guard inspection by President Reuven Rivlin and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi near the entrance to the presidential complex. The soldiers were honored with a fly-past by the Israel Air Force, with the pilot in the lead plane conveying Independence Day greetings to Rivlin and Kochavi, which were reciprocated by Rivlin.

Led by IDF Chief of Protocol and Ceremonies Lt.-Col. Oded Nahari, who for the 18th consecutive year, was in charge of grooming the soldiers for the occasion, Rivlin and Kochavi moved from soldier to soldier, offering congratulatory remarks and asking them about themselves.

Everyone then moved to the back garden of the complex for a mix of music, song, stand-up comedy, serious talk and a citation for each of the soldiers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, was due to leave before the ceremony was over to be at the annual Bible Quiz by 11 a.m., but stayed till the end, which was after 11:15 a.m., perhaps out of a sense of noblesse oblige, or because he was visibly enjoying himself.

The fun elements were contributed by comediennes Rotem Abuhab, who acted as moderator, and the irrepressible, effervescent Tzipi Shavit, who at 72 has as much verve as she had when she was 27.

As the overall theme of this year’s Independence Day celebrations was the Spirit of Israel, Abuhab asked Rivlin, Netanyahu and Kochavi to define what the spirit of Israel means to each of them. Rivlin said that it means that nothing is impossible and that every challenge is seen as an opportunity.

Netanyahu said that, beyond the barbecues, it’s the feeling of togetherness. Whenever he returns to Israel from abroad, as soon as the plane hits the tarmac, the passengers applaud. “You don’t see that anywhere else,” he said. He also noted that Israelis tend to come together both in joy and in sorrow.

For Kochavi it’s a never-ending desire to improve the status quo. “Israelis never see anything as final,” he said. “They always want to make it better.”

Relating to words that creep into the Hebrew language, Abuhab then asked each of the three men to name a word with which they identify most. Rivlin said “nehama,” which is the name of his wife, who is still recuperating from a lung transplant, and to whom good wishes for a speedy recovery were conveyed by almost every speaker. But Nechama is not only his wife. In Hebrew the word means comfort. Realizing that his wife might rebuke him for having said “nehama,” Rivlin said that he identifies most with “zeh efshar” (it’s possible), “because in the most difficult days, these were the words of hope.”

Netanyahu opted for “hultza” (shirt), explaining that when he was a little boy, he and his brothers would go every Saturday to the home of historian Prof. Joseph Klausner, who was his father’s teacher, and his mother had told them that Klausner had invented the word “hultza.” The young Netanyahu had wanted to know what a shirt was called before, but apparently his mother never revealed that. Klausner also came up with the word “iparon” (pencil), but of all the expressions that Klausner added to the Hebrew lexicon, Netanyahu’s favorite was “migdal or” (tower of light), because prophesy has it that Israel will be a light unto the nations.

For Kochavi the word was “hayal” (soldier), because soldiers, once they are in uniform, are all the same regardless of background.

Shavit came bouncing onto the stage, saying that nearly all her dreams had been realized, but she still had one left. She wanted a hug from the president – and she got it, not only from Rivlin but also from Netanyahu and Kochavi, after which she sang some of the songs that were among her greatest hits.

Rivlin, in his address to the nation, noted that this year, Independence Day coincided with the 74th anniversary of the allied victory over the Nazis – “the triumph of the spirit over the evil of mankind, and the right of the Jewish people to live freely in their own land.”

As always, Rivlin emphasized that Jews have returned to the land of their forefathers and that Israel is “a Jewish and democratic country, a democratic and Jewish country.”

Kochavi said that excellence is something that everyone should aim for, because it is a sign of leadership. He also implied that leadership requires flexibility. “Reality changes, and we have to change with it, as we prepare ourselves for new challenges.”

Lt. Yuval Peretz, who serves as a personnel officer with the Golani Brigade, said that while it is a great privilege to be selected as an outstanding soldier, it is an honor that also carries with it great responsibility. As part of that responsibility she instanced keeping in mind missing soldiers and bereaved parents.

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