Edelstein: Diversity part of secret to our success

Speaking at torch-lighting ceremony Monday night, newly installed Knesset speaker urges civil discourse.

Soldiers at Mount Herzl torch lighting ceremony 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Soldiers at Mount Herzl torch lighting ceremony 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
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 90th anniversary.
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 mission.
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.
The 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.
“It is 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.”
He acknowledged and encouraged continued argument over the burden of service and the budget, emphasizing the importance of civility in Israeli political discourse.
“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 success.”
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 thrive.
“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.
The evening included musical and dance performances, as well as the traditional IDF flag bearers performance.
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 present.
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.
Ashurov said she was proud of the state, that despite its enemies it survived every year.
“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 said.
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.
“It’s amazing how one minute separates us between memorial and celebration,” he said. “That’s the silver platter on which the state was delivered to us.”