Courtesy of JNS Photo credit: Masa Israeli Journey

Some 7,000 people attend an English-language Memorial Day ceremony at the IDF Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum in Latrun, west of Jerusalem, April 24, 2023.

(April 25, 2023 / JNS) 

They came to Israel from around the world. They proudly served the country they had made their new home. And they made the ultimate sacrifice.

There was Shirel Aboukarat, a 19-year-old Border Police officer who immigrated from France and was killed by two terrorists during an attack at a bus station in Hadera.

There was Uriel Bar-Maimon Wolf, a 21-year-old Border Police officer who made aliyah from Argentina. He died during operational activities at the Erez checkpoint to the northern Gaza Strip, hours after visiting his mother who was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer at a Jerusalem hospital.

There was 2nd Lt. Carmi Elan, a Los Angeles-born pilot who died in a training accident aged 19.

Then there was Michael Ladygin, 36, a native of Russia who made aliyah and was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in Ariel in 2022. He left behind a wife and two children.

There was Capt. Alexander (Sasha) Schwartzman, 23, an IDF officer from Ukraine. He was wounded in a battle with Hezbollah in Lebanon and refused evacuation to ensure that his fellow soldiers were treated first, only to be killed by enemy fire.

They were among the fallen honored Monday evening in the largest English-language Israeli Memorial Day ceremony, held at the Yad La-Shiryon, the IDF Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum in Latrun, west of Jerusalem.

The event, which was organized by the Masa Israeli Journey organization, was attended by seven thousand people, including a twelve-member U.S. congressional delegation led by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and was viewed by hundreds of thousands of others around the world.

Held under the theme of “Forever Connected,” the fifteenth annual event brought together Masa students and alumni, bereaved families, politicians and Jewish community leaders from across the globe to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for the defense of Israel.

The ninety-minute ceremony in the outdoor amphitheater got underway after the siren opening Memorial Day pierced the night air. It included speeches, short clips about the slain, musical interludes in Hebrew and English, recital of the Yizkor memorial prayer and the Kaddish mourner’s prayer, the laying of wreaths, and the singing of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.

“Without the courage of those who fought to defend our country we wouldn’t be standing here today to fulfill the dream of two thousand years to build the national home of the Jewish people,” the Brooklyn-born Cabinet secretary Yossi Fuchs said in his address, speaking on behalf of the Israeli government.

“The bond between the Jewish people and the State of Israel remains unbreakable,” said Ofer Gutman, CEO of Masa Israel Journey. “Your presence here is testament to a forever connected Jewish people.”

Since its founding in 2004, Masa has provided long-term educational programs to one-hundred-and-ninety thousand young people from more than sixty countries aimed at immersing Diaspora Jews in Israeli society.

Calls for unity

The speakers stressed the urgency of unity during a period of deep divisions within Israel and among Jewish communities around the world.

“One key message out from the sacrifice of the fallen is to remember our unity and to accept one another,” said Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel. “We are one Jewish nation with only one Jewish country—the State of Israel.”

Almog noted that his brother died during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The message of the fallen is one of unity, he said. “It is a spirit of total devotion, it is a spirit that the country is above us, it is a spirit of unconditional love.”

“The life they commanded us to live is one of togetherness with all world Jewry,” he said.