DESPITE being a pre-recorded “virtual” ceremony out of necessity, the 2020 Zionist Council of NSW (ZCNSW)-led Yom Hazikaron commemoration pulled as strongly at the heartstrings as ever, in dedication and memory of Israel’s 23,816 fallen soldiers and victims of terror.
Moments after more than 600 people tuned in on ZCNSW’s Facebook site to watch the footage from their homes from 7pm on Monday night, one viewer, Ruth Guth, summed up its effect in a single comment: “[It was] so profound, so moving [and] so special to be able to commemorate our fallen together at this time of isolation.”
The ceremony – presented in partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Defence, JNF and ZDVO – began with the memorial day siren in Israel and a minute’s silence.
It included special guests in Sydney and Israel, traditional prayers sung in mournful tones by Rabbi Yehoshua Niasoff, and an animated video dedicated to Druze IDF soldier Yusuf Muadi, who was killed in 2009, aged 20, while fighting terrorists in Gaza.
Before lighting a memorial candle, Ruhama Levy Rozentzvaig – representative of Bereaved Israeli Families Living in Australia – shed a tear as she spoke about her husband Moshe Levy, an IDF soldier who was killed in action in the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War.
“Moshe could not wait for the draft order to come through, so eager was he to defend our country,” she said. “At that point in time, [he] didn’t know that he was about to become a father – our beautiful daughter, Moshit, was named after him. Moshe jumped at any opportunity to help others, and I have lived my life by his example.”
Speaking from Israel, former IDF squad commander and Citation of Honour recipient Matan Dansker recalled gathering with his fellow soldiers for a makeshift kiddush at Nahal Oz near Gaza before a mission to destroy terror tunnels during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
“In the first break from fighting, I saw that we had lost many of our comrades,” Dansker said.
“[Later] that summer, my best friend, Yuval, was killed – he fell while protecting Kibbutz Niram and the city of Sderot, and I knew the world would not look to me as it did before. War has created generations of young Israelis who feel old even when they are young.
“On Memorial Day, I remember … I think of my good friends who have frozen in my memories, and are still children.
“But I want to end with hope – maybe on Yom Hazikaron, for just a few hours, we as people will be one.”
Other speakers included ZCNSW president Richard Balkin, JNF NSW president David Moses, Or Porat who was seriously injured during a terror attack in Jerusalem in 2016, and Israeli defence attache to Australia, Safi Amasha.
“In Australia there are a large number of bereaved families with whom we are in contact,” Amasha said. “Through this virtual ceremony … I take this opportunity to say to you we support you, and we are here with you and for you.”
Meanwhile, Hatzofim Australia – the Melbourne and Sydney chapters of Israeli Scouts – held its own virtual Yom Hazikaron commemoration via Zoom and Facebook last Sunday night, with more than 80 families joining in. Executive director Michael Manhaim said members of three Hatzofim families shared their story during the evening, about a father who was murdered in a terror attack in Israel, and two IDF soldiers who died in battle.
“We sang songs online together and the madrichim read letters and poems,” he said. “It was very emotional to be able to keep our tradition and pay our respects, even during isolation – I couldn’t stop crying.”