Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein delivered a speech hailing Israel’s cultural and
ethnic diversity as the key to its success during the annual torch-lighting
ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl on Monday night.
The ceremony marked
the end of Remembrance Day and touched off the 65th Independence Day
celebrations, as Israelis transition from sorrow to joy.
There were 14
honorees to light 12 torches representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including
Danny Shapira, formerly Israel’s chief test pilot, noted historian Muki Tsur,
Orthodox feminist and philosophy scholar Tamar Ross and Beduin Achva Academic
College president Elian Elkarnoy.
The youth representatives, who lit
flames dedicated to the country’s young generation, were Agatha Farchick, a
Ukrainian-born leader in the Hashomer Hatza’ir movement that is marking its
100th year, and Eliyana Elbaz, a youth leader in Betar, which is marking its
A year and a half ago Elbaz’s father, who was active in
the security forces and the police, was killed on his way to a
The honorees were selected under the Ministerial Committee for
Ceremonies and Icons’ theme this year of national legacy and the preservation of
national cultural assets for future generations.
Edelstein gave the
opening address of the ceremony and lit the first torch of the event.
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speaker addressed the throngs of flag-waving audience members on a personal note
about his own struggle to reach Israel. Twenty-six years ago Monday, he said, he
was freed from Soviet prison.
“Citizens of Israel, I was not born on this
land... As a boy I didn’t dream that a moment would arrive that I would stand
here, to one side [of me] the grave of the visionary of the state [Theodor
Herzl], as a representative of the Israeli Knesset. I didn’t dream of it not
because I didn’t dare to and not because I was scared.
“I didn’t know
this dream was possible, that it was possible to dream so far, so deeply, so
differently,” he said.
Looking out at the crowd of native Israelis, new
immigrants, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, European, Asian, African and American, haredi,
secular and traditional, Edelstein said he did not see a multicultural melting
pot, but rather a people with united values, heritage and future.
not we who kept the memory but the memory that kept us. It is not we who kept
the heritage but the heritage that kept us,” he said. “It’s not just our destiny
that brings us together. It is also a shared mission.”
and encouraged continued argument over the burden of service and the budget,
emphasizing the importance of civility in Israeli political
“Even when we argue, we should never desire the destruction of
our opponent,” Edelstein said.
Judaism, he said, “is a culture of
diversity and disagreement. It is a culture that sees value in the 70
faces of the Torah. There is no one Israeliness. There is an abundance of
Israeli experiences, a variety of Israeli identities. The abundance of cultures
and ethnicities is exceptional and is part of the secret of our
The Knesset Speaker also warned that those who still didn’t
recognize Israel’s right to exist would not deter the state’s determination to
“It’s sixty-five years that Israel celebrates its independence
and there are those who still stubbornly don’t recognize her, don’t recognize
us. We will struggle for our right to exist and we stand ready on guard
to return and to defend the state we established in sweat, blood and hard work.
No one will intimidate us,” he said.
Edelstein blessed the IDF, the
Knesset and the youth movements, in whose hands lies the future of the state. He
closed with a nod to Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, calling for his freedom after
28 years in US federal prison.
An announcement was made during the
ceremony commemorating Hila Betzaleli, the 20-year-old soldier who was killed
during rehearsals for last year’s Independence Day ceremony when the Mount Herzl
lighting bridge collapsed. Her family, though invited to the ceremony, refused
to attend because they said her case was still unresolved.
included musical and dance performances, as well as the traditional IDF flag
Members of Knesset in attendance included leader of
the opposition Shelly Yacimovich, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and
Education Minister Shai Piron. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz was also
Armina Ashurov came to the ceremony from Netanya with her
mother, niece and nephew. Ashurov made aliya from Azerbaijan 33 years ago, when
she was one year old, with her parents. This was her first time coming to the
ceremony, the fulfillment of a childhood dream, she said.
she was proud of the state, that despite its enemies it survived every
“I think that every year we pass in Israel is something special.
We’re still a young country and we’re still learning from our mistakes,” she
Yuval Rabr, who came to the ceremony from Givat Shmuel, said the
horn that used to sound between Remembrance Day and Independence Day made the
separation between sadness and jubilation more profound.
how one minute separates us between memorial and celebration,” he said. “That’s
the silver platter on which the state was delivered to us.”
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