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Israel @ 69 – Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut

Remembering the fallen, celebrating the future

On the evening of April 30 — 4 Iyar 5777 — the State of Israel will remember its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks with ceremonies held throughout the country. Fittingly, the next evening, as Yom Hazikaron — Israel Memorial Day — comes to a close, the Israeli people, and Jews throughout the world, will begin the celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut — Israel Independence Day.


Miracle of Miracles!
Five of Israel’s latest achievements

By Jacob Kamaras/JNS.org

With its forces vastly outnumbered by Arab armies, Israel’s victory in the 1948 War of Independence was widely considered a modern-day miracle. In 2017, the perceived miracles keep coming. Here are five of Israel’s latest crowning achievements.


Team Israel’s Cody Decker at the World Baseball Classic (WBC), with the team’s mascot, Mensch on a Bench.

Baseball fever

Team Israel far surpassed expectations at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March, starting the international tournament with a four-game winning streak—including victories over baseball powerhouses South Korea, Taiwan and Cuba—before losses to the Netherlands and Japan ended its run.

Israel’s squad, comprised of Jewish Americans who are eligible for Israeli citizenship, garnered significant attention from major mainstream media outlets. ESPN ran a feature article dubbing Israel, the “Jamaican bobsled team of the WBC,” given its current underdog story.


Ambassador Nikki Haley

A ‘new sheriff’ at the UN

Israel has experienced decades of bias and disproportionate criticism from the United Nations, but the nascent Trump administration — under the leadership of Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley — is vowing to chart a new course for the world body’s culture on the Jewish state. During her speech at March’s AIPAC policy conference, Haley described herself as the U.N.’s “new sheriff in town” and declared “the days of Israel-bashing are over.” Haley, who in April assumed the U.N. Security Council’s rotating monthly presidency, has promised to refocus the council away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The incredibly destructive nature of Iranian and Hezbollah activities throughout the Middle East demands much more of our attention. It should become this council’s priority in the region,” she said April 20.


The Israeli company Mobileye’s technology at work. Credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90.

Start-up nation’s $15 billion bombshell

In the latest and largest coup for Israel’s “start-up nation” reputation, the American high-tech giant Intel in March agreed to buy Israeli vision technology developer Mobileye for $15.3 billion. Intel hopes the acquisition helps it rise to the forefront of the rapidly expanding self-driving car market. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Intel-Mobileye deal would lead to the creation of “thousands of additional jobs” in Israel.


Economy ‘defying gravity’

A nearly nonexistent inflation rate and low unemployment helped propel Israel to the No. 3 spot on a list of the world’s most stable and promising economies for 2016, published by the Bloomberg financial news agency this month. Also this month, a report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch deemed the Israeli economy “on a robust recovery path with growth rates running at three to four percent levels,” noting that the Bank of Israel was “defying gravity” by checking the appreciation of the shekel against the dollar. In addition, the number of foreign tourists visiting Israel, meanwhile, reached an all-time high of 739,000 in the first quarter of 2017. Israeli Tourism Ministry officials hope 2013’s record number of 3.54 million tourists visiting Israel will be surpassed this year.


A satellite image of the Mediterranean Sea. The future Israel-Europe gas pipeline will run 1,200 miles undersea between the Jewish state and Italy. Credit: Eric Gaba/NASA World Wind.

Energy independence day?

What says “independence” more than energy independence? Government ministers from Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and the European Union this month agreed to advance the creation of the world’s longest gas pipeline, running 1,200 miles undersea between Israel and Italy. The pipeline — which will cost upwards of $5.5 billion and is slated for completion by 2025 — is expected to significantly increase Israel’s natural gas export potential and strengthen the Jewish state’s position as an emerging energy powerhouse in the Mediterranean.



Yom Hazikaron 
In Israel, families of the fallen remember lives lost

By Ken Stephens

In the coming month, Israel will be enveloped by a flurry of observances ranging from the solemn Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) ceremonies to the festive 69th Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) and 50th anniversary of the Six Day War/Reunification of Jerusalem celebrations.

For the widows of Israel’s fallen soldiers, who paid the ultimate price so that Jews all over the world could revel in the modern day rebirth of the Jewish State, these anniversaries stir a torrent of varying emotions.

At 94 years old, Devorah Arkin Roth is one of the country’s oldest living war widows. Her husband, Mordechai Arkin, was killed while defending Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem just weeks before the official outbreak of the War of Independence in May 1948. She still clings to the fond memories of her husband, as she stares at the photo album of their wedding and the newborn pictures of their first child. “He was a very talented man who wanted to go to Columbia University in New York to study physics,” Devorah recalled. “But the deteriorating security situation in the country wouldn’t permit him to leave. He worked at Hadassah Hospital and doubled as a guard when he was killed. At the time of his death, I was already pregnant with our second child.”

Devorah, who remarried and is now a great-grandmother, still gets the jitters each time one of her grandchildren goes into the army. “It’s difficult to see your grandchildren being drafted into the IDF after what I had to endure and even more so because one of my grandchildren was injured as well in battle,” she recollected.

Flash forward 19 years…The Six Dar War was as an astounding military accomplishment, as the IDF smashed the massive armed forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. But 776 IDF soldiers lost their lives in the midst of liberating Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria.

Private Yossi Mori was killed on the first day of the Six Day War (June 5) after his unit was shelled in a minefield. His widow, Dania recalled, “We had a great group of friends and to this day, we meet every Memorial Day at his grave. During these years, you keep going, building your home, raising children and grandchildren. You don’t just sit all day thinking about your loss, because then your life would stop.”

Even in between wars, when IDF soldiers constantly train in order to be ready for the next conflagration, there are inherent dangers, which can exact a toll.

Sara Omer, the widow of Reuven Omer z”l, with the couple’s three sons.

Like a thunderbolt out of the blue, Sara Omer’s world was nearly destroyed in 2008, when her husband Reuven was killed in the midst of a training exercise as part of his IDF reserve duty. Sara had to face life alone with her three young boys, six-year-old twins, Nadav and Yotam, and two-year-old Guy.

Sara, armed with typical British optimism and steely resolve, refused to let her world come apart at the seams. “The unexpected loss of my husband was indeed shocking and when Yom Hazikaron comes around every year, it is a difficult day for all of the widows but my children, who are now teenagers, attend a special ceremony at the Knesset, which is both uplifting and inspiring,” she said.

For the soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the State of Israel, those who they left behind have suffered the most. While the entire nation of Israel hold them in their hearts, the widows provide one another with emotional support through the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization (IDFWO). Run by the widows themselves, the organization provides services that touch on every aspect of their lives and the lives of their children — from a touching communal bar/bat mitzvah service at the Kotel to professional training courses for widows to periodic retreats.

“We all speak the same language and understand each other, as widows. Since we have all experienced the same loss and trauma, we can speak to each other in our language and help each other when we need to, especially on Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day), when we all could use a hug and a smile,” one of the widows, who wished to remain anonymous, explained.

Even as the official mourning of Yom Hazikaron ends, and the rest of the country moves to the happiness of Yom Ha’atmaut, these women will find comfort in each other to face their common struggles.

To learn more about the IDFWO visit idfwo.org/eng.

Into the Cairo Geniza
An oasis in the storm
As General Assembly wraps up, Jewish community counts its victories

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