Remembrance Day in Herzl's birthplace

120 Jews grounded by ash cloud stuck in Budapest for Yom Hazikaron.

April 19, 2010 01:48
3 minute read.
Passengers rest as they wait for a flight at Baraj

Barajas Airport wait 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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BUDAPEST – With a cloud of sulphuric ash blanketing Europe, 120 Jews from all over the world are trapped in Budapest.

The group has been following in the footsteps of Zionism’s founding father, Theodor Herzl, traveling to cities significant to where he lived and worked, including Paris, Vienna, Basel and the Hungarian capital.

However, the ash cloud, covering Europe at 10,000 feet, has made it unsafe to fly. The resulting grounding of planes at all European airports has left us stranded, without knowing how we will get home or where we will sleep.

Right now, the only airport that can fly outside the cloud is Athens, and El Al has promised to send in a plane to pick us up from Athens airport on Tuesday morning.

So for all of Sunday the group was preparing to take a 36-hour bus ride to Athens, to arrive at 4 a.m. Tuesday, in time for the plane.

This solution is still up in the air, as traffic conditions on the way to Athens are atrocious and the trip itself would cost many thousands of euros and at least €4,500 for visas on the way. The route would go through Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and Macedonia.

The youngest member of the trip is 12 years old, the oldest in his 80s. Some participants left behind young children, work responsibilities, university courses. There are those running out of prescription medication, and even the Athens option is uncertain to work, as the ash cloud is constantly moving.

Rumi Zonder-Kislev, an Israeli participant from Shoham, left behind her two children – Rotem, three, and Ido, eight.

“I’ve never been more than one night away from them. As it is, this trip was difficult, especially now that Rotem has a high fever and I’m stuck in Budapest,” she said.

A group of young participants have taken on the job of putting together a Remembrance Day ceremony instead of the official Mount Herzl ceremony that they will not be able to attend.

At the local Israel cultural center, a pianist and singers from the group will perform traditional Remembrance Day songs. A one-minute siren was to be sounded at exactly 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. Israel time, which is when the Israeli siren sounded.

The young participants have created a list among themselves of soldiers and terror victims whom they personally knew – a list reaching 30 names.

One participant, Aviya Ben-Elhanan, 35, a former company commander in Golani and current company commander in the elite reserve Alexandroni Brigade, will recall three soldiers who were killed by a roadside bomb under his command in Lebanon in 1998: Nahum Ela, Raz Promovich and Yossi Bar-Muha, all aged 19 at the time of their deaths.

Every Remembrance Day since the incident, Ben-Elhanan has visited the three soldiers’ families.

“It’s very difficult for me to be here and not with their families on Memorial Day,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

Despite the difficulties, the group has stuck together and begun to problem-solve. Local doctors have been called in to give prescriptions to those in need of medications. Many went to the few grocery stores open on Sunday in Budapest to purchase food, water bottles and supplies.

“This is an amazing group,” said Dr. David Breakstone, the initiator of the trip and head of the WZO Education Department. “There is tremendous cooperation and camaraderie. People are really prepared to help.”

In fact, more people were laughing than complaining on Sunday.

“It’s an interesting adventure at the end of an amazing journey,” Karen Rubinstein, executive director of the American Zionist Movement, said with a smile.

While participants don’t know where they will be on Monday – one person has suggested that a pocket of clean air will open up over Budapest in the morning – everyone is busy preparing to mark Remembrance Day and probably celebrate Independence Day in Herzl’s birthplace.  

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