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Beresheet takes a selfie minutes before touching down on the moon .(Photo by: SCREENSHOT SPACEIL YOUTUBE)
Spirit of unity
While Beresheet was a private project, financed mostly by philanthropists like Kahn, its achievements nonetheless became a matter of national pride.
The names of those honored to be chosen as torch lighters at this year’s traditional Independence Day ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem are gradually being published, and the choices so far should be welcomed. On Sunday, Sport and Culture Minister Miri Regev, who heads the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols, announced that the mothers of the three teens kidnapped and killed by Hamas terrorists in June 2014 had been invited to light one torch. And on Monday, Regev confirmed that philanthropist Morris Kahn, the primary sponsor of the Beresheet lunar spacecraft project, and Kfir Damari, one of SpaceIL’s three initiators, will jointly light a torch at the 71st Independence Day celebration on May 8.

The theme of this year’s ceremony is “Saluting the Israeli spirit.” “Ever since the state was founded, it has given clear expression to the special Israeli spirit, which overcomes difficulties against all odds,” the public committee that selects the torch lighters said, in its initial statement asking for nominations for the torch-lighting honor this year. “This same Israeli spirit continues to motivate many Israelis into overcoming difficulties, excelling, and to succeed in turning the personal hardship into a means for action, growth and contributing to society in an inspiring way – and makes Israel a better place to live in.”

Iris Yifrach, Bat-Galim Shaer and Racheli Fraenkel – the mothers of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali – were chosen not because of their tragic ordeal but for the way they dealt with it: moving forward. After the teens were murdered, rather than surrendering to grief and despair, the three families established a prize in their names to promote national unity and help memorialize their children. The Jerusalem Prize for National Unity is given out annually on Unity Day, the anniversary of the teens’ deaths, and substantially awards “individuals, organizations, and initiatives in Israel and throughout the Jewish world whose actions are instrumental in advancing mutual respect for others amongst the Jewish people, both in times of crisis and in daily life.”

“The mothers, the heroes of our spirit, chose – despite their heartbroken grief – to unify people and open the gates toward a love of Israel in honor of their loved ones – our loved ones,” said Regev in her announcement.

The three mothers have often spoken of the unprecedented feeling of solidarity and support they felt during the weeks in which the security forces searched for their sons, while their fates were unknown. Fraenkel later told The Jerusalem Post’s Liat Collins that she felt the solidarity and prayers surrounding the abduction and murder of the three teens helped the country in a way to deal with Operation Protective Edge later that summer.

The choice of Kahn and Damari, born in very different circumstances, is no less meaningful.

Regev said that the two “belong to a group of dreamers who merit to fulfill their visions. The Beresheet initiative, which started as a distant dream, soared through the skies and came within touching distance of the Moon.”

While Beresheet was a private project, financed mostly by philanthropists like Kahn, its achievements nonetheless became a matter of national pride.

Although Beresheet disappointingly crashed on the Moon’s surface last Thursday instead of making the hoped-for smooth landing, there is no denying that getting that far was a huge achievement, and the country united to follow the spacecraft’s progress during its 49-day journey. Israel did not become the fourth country to land intact on the Moon, but did join an exclusive club of only seven countries that have achieved a lunar orbit. Undeterred by the setback, Kahn this week already announced he would help finance Beresheet 2.0, which will hopefully succeed using the lessons learned from its predecessor.

“On the 71st Independence Day, Israel will salute its citizens – men and women of all religions and communities – whose personal stories express the Israeli spirit,” a Culture and Sports Ministry statement declared at the beginning of the search for this year’s honorees: “those who struggled and succeeded against all odds in becoming active citizens, making a special contribution to society – and whose actions enjoy broad public support.”

The torch-lighting ceremony, with 12 flames symbolizing the 12 tribes, is uniquely Israeli, marking the end of Remembrance Day and the start of Independence Day. That very transition – from commemoration of loss to a celebration of freedom – sums up the Israeli spirit. We hope the future honorees will continue to represent this spirit and bring the country together.
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