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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Over 200 Israeli teens from Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed (Working and Studying Youth) will march alongside World War II veterans throughout the country to mark VE Day over the next week.
Beginning on Thursday morning in Beersheba, local youth aged 14-18 from the country's largest youth movement will represent their national peer group in 15 marches, including those taking place in Haifa, Ashdod and Rishon Lezion and the official national march in Jerusalem scheduled for Sunday. Many of the marches, which commemorate the day the allies secured a victory over the Nazis, will highlight the role of the Soviet forces during the war.
Chagit Shvarzman, the organization's project coordinator, emphasized education about the Red Army for this year's marches, saying Israeli schools tend not to teach enough about its part in the war.
"Kids in school don't learn a lot about the way Russia fought in World War II, so a lot of it is new for them," said Shvarzman. "[Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed] talks with them about what the Red Army did in the war, then we talk about the Jewish veterans among the Red Army. We talk about their situation in Israel, their organizations and what they do."
Some of the movement's participants teach each other about this period of history, said Shvarzman, as many of their grandparents are Soviet war veterans.
"Some of them come with stories from home, and they find a place in the movement to talk about what they've heard. They have a chance to talk about it with their friends and think about the contribution of their grandparents to the victory," she said.
Although the teens took the initiative themselves to participate in the marches, and have done so for the past five years, they may be the sole representatives of their age group, as very few youngsters are traditionally seen marching.
"People always look at us strangely that we're going on marches, because all of the people are very old," said Shvarzman. "We see it as our mission to be on those marches because we're the only young people that carry this mission. Maybe in some cities there are other youth movements that come, but not in all these places. I think it's really important for the youth to go alongside the other people and listen to their stories, because in 10 or 15 years' time, they won't have this opportunity."
When the movement's youngsters first got involved in VE Day, their participation revolved solely around the marches, but more recently, they have developed relationships with local veteran organizations. In Haifa, for example, the local branch of the youth movement resides in the same neighborhood as a veteran club, and the two shared a Hanukka party last year. On Pessah, some of the teens visited veterans no longer able to walk.
"Our kids are very impressed with how these elderly people tell their stories," Shvarzman added. "It's a really unique conversation. There is something [captivating] about the way the veterans tell their story which is really interesting."