Israelis Remember Their Fallen

The siren sounded at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, May 11, calling Israelis to stand in silence and remember. This Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism, Yom HaZikaron, is a time when Jewish citizens mourn for their loved ones across the land.

One poignant ceremony took place at the open plaza in front of the Jewish Agency. Executive Chairman Natan Sharansky lit a torch for the 23,447 soldiers and more than 2,500 Israeli citizens who have lost their lives to war and terror.   

One of those who spoke at the solemn ceremony was 16 year old Leah Nahari, part of a Yemenite family living in Israel. Leah lost her father, Moshe, who was murdered in a 2008 anti-Semitic attack in Yemen. Leah was only nine years old at the time. She shared her heart about what it was like to lose her father at such a young age.

“My eight siblings and I were born and raised in the Jewish tradition in the city of Raydah in Yemen. My father was dedicated to his family and his community and taught us to treat others with kindness and to love the Torah. One bright day, he went out to shop for Shabbat and never returned. A stranger accosted my father and demanded that he convert to Islam and abandon his Jewish faith. My father refused.”

At that point the man pulled out a gun and shot Leah’s father several times. After her father was murdered, Leah’s family received threats from the gunman’s family. Hatred of Jews increased in Yemen.

“Our family as I knew it no longer existed. Our lives were shattered and full of fear.”

In 2009, Leah and three of her siblings fled to Israel with the assistance of the Jewish Agency. In 2012, Leah’s mother and other siblings immigrated to Israel to build a new life in the Jewish homeland. Leah is happy as her brother is getting married soon and the family has managed to adapt well to Israeli society, despite the loss of Moshe.

More than 200 Jews around the world have lost their lives to anti-Semitic attacks since Israel’s establishment in 1948. Laying a wreath in memory of the victims, Sharansky declared, “The war on our right to be a free people in our land has no borders. We have been attacked in France, in Copenhagen, and in Argentina. Today, we return to the attack in the marketplace in Raydah, Yemen, in which the Jewish teacher Moshe Ya’ish Nahari was murdered because he refused to abandon his faith. His last words were, ‘I will remain a Jew.’ Our enemies keep trying to destroy Jewish life and we continue to build it.”

Sharansky spoke about how the Jewish Agency continues to assist Jews who want to start a new life in Israel.  The last remnant of 19 Jews from Raydah immigrated to Israel this year, along with 30,000 other Jews from around the world.

This Remembrance Day in Israel is a necessary “time out” for Israeli society, where respect for those who have given their lives is part of the memories that most families share. In a small country like this one, every person knows someone who died in either a war or a terrorist attack. Yet, Israelis are some of the happiest and most content citizens in the world.

As the sun sets over the land, Jewish citizens prepare to dance in the streets and enjoy fireworks in celebration of Israel’s 68th birthday. While it is not easy, Israeli Jews manage to go from sadness to joy, remembering the words in Psalm 30:11: “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.”