Jerusalem (TPS) – Ten years after the death of her son Michael, an American-born IDF soldier who fell in battle, Harriet Levin is still learning to cope.
“Every day is different,” Levin said in an interview with Tazpit Press Service (TPS) on the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day, which begins Tuesday night. “I’ve learned to deal, but then there are really bad days – I call them my ‘Michael days.’”
First Sgt. Michael Levin died during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Serving in Battalion 890 of the Paratroopers unit, Michael was killed by anti-tank fire while clearing a building in Aita Al Shaab, a city in southern Lebanon. He was 21 years old.
Levin represents a group of soldiers known as “lone soldiers” – citizens of other countries who leave behind their families and friends and come to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
Thousands of lone soldiers serve in the IDF. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, three lone soldiers, two Americans and one French, were killed in action in the Gaza Strip.
Since 2009, four lone soldier centers across Israel have been established in Michael Levin’s memory.
“Mostly I just try to focus on the good that we’re doing in his memory and that really keeps me going,” Harriet Levin said. The centers are “run by lone soldiers so they really understand their needs,” she added. “We just keep growing and getting better and better.”
Joshua Flaster, director of the Lone Soldier Center and a former lone soldier serving in an infantry unit, helped establish the center along with his comrades after completing his service.
“I came to Israel 11 years ago on my own, as a lone soldier, and sadly have lost good friends in the army,” Flaster told TPS. “Since my release from active-duty service I’ve had to say goodbye far too early to lone soldiers I’d helped advise and integrate into Israel.”
Memorial Day, known in Hebrew as Yom Hazikaron, carries special weight for soldiers, lone or otherwise.
“Yom Hazikaron is a day of sad reflection and, of course, a little scary for any soldier,” Flaster said. “Soldiers are sent to stand by the graves of members of their unit who fell before them. A country comes to a stand-still and as a nation we take on the pain, loss, and price paid to be a free people in our own land.”
Harriet attended the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin ceremony at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill on Tuesday, which featured the untold stories of fallen lone soldiers.
“It’s not only the loss of my son but the loss of all of Israel’s children, both in wars and terrorism, who have given their lives so we have a homeland,” Levin said. “He’s not the only one. He came here from the States and he really didn’t have to, but that’s what really makes Israel so fabulous.”
The differences between Memorial Day in the U.S. and Israel are “like night and day,” Levin said.
“The United States just doesn’t get what a Memorial Day is,” she said. “In the States it’s about barbecues and sales and opening your shorehouse and it has nothing to do with people who have given their lives for their country – here that’s all it’s about.”
Michael is remembered for his smile, courage, and unhalting Zionism.
“His smile would melt you and his eyes would twinkle,” Levin told TPS. “But his seriousness came through when it came to Israel. He had a passion for Israel and a love for this country. He was doing exactly what he wanted to do with his life.”
The national Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen commenced on Tuesday at 8 p.m. with a nationwide minute of silence, as sirens throughout the country marked the solemn moment and flags were lowered to half mast.
The official memorial ceremony was held at the foot of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City and was attended by Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin and the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.
The Kadish, a Jewish mourner’s prayer, was read by Ofer Cohen, bereaved father of 19-year-old Hadar Cohen, who was killed in a stabbing attack in February.
“A great nation cries over its fallen sons and daughters,” opened Rivlin. “We hate death, but we understand the heavy price you payed to protect a nation.”
“The soldiers and the commanders of the IDF stand united to defend the country, our unity is our strength,” Eizenkot said. “But unity does not mean agreement. Our commanders need to know that the entire country stands behind them and supports them even when there’s disagreement.”.
Memorial Day, or Yom Hazikaron, has been observed annually for 68 years, since the foundation of the State of Israel, and is symbolically marked the day before Israel’s Independence Day. In recent years the commemoration has been expanded to include the civilians who died as a result of political violence and terrorist attacks.
According to the Ministry of Defense, since 1860 the total number of fallen has reached 23,447 – including soldiers, policemen, civilians, and operatives of Israel’s security and intelligence bodies. The same data reveals that today there are 16,307 bereaved families in Israel.
The count starts at 1860, since it includes not only IDF soldiers, but also fallen fighters of Jewish security and defense organizations from the beginning of the Zionist movement. Organizations such as HaShomer, active during the time of the Ottoman Empire, and the Hagana, active during the British Mandate and up to the 1948 War of Independence, when the IDF was formed.
According to data from the Israeli National Insurance institute, 2,576 civilians have been killed during Israel’s wars and in terrorist attacks since the end of the 1948 War.
According to the IDF, 68 individuals have joined the list of Israel’s fallen in the past year alone. The Magen David Adom counts over 20 civilians killed in the recent wave of terrorism, which included 106 stabbing attacks, 25 car-rammings, 22 shootings, and one bombing of a public bus.
Eizenkot made a direct reference to the recent escalation in terrorism and its effect on the Israeli homefront, saying that “terrorism has raised its head again over the past year, and today both Israel’s security agencies and its civilians are forced to stand against it.”
Rivlin mentioned several victims of terror by name, including ”Hussein Ali, who will not attend his own wedding, and Hadar, the watcher on the walls of Jerusalem who was no more then a young girl when she was killed, and more.”
The late Staff Sergeant Yanai Weissman, who was killed by an Arab terrorist while on leave, will be awarded a military decoration posthumously, an IDF spokesperson announced on Tuesday. The announcement comes on the eve of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism.
Weissman was a 21-year-old IDF soldier stabbed to death in front of his wife and child in a supermarket in the Binyamin region on February 18.
Despite the fact that Weissman was murdered in a civilian facility while off duty, his death has been categorized by the Ministry of Defense as “in the line of duty.”
“Yanai chose to engage the assailants with his bear hands, fighting them until his own death. He engaged in combat with the terrorists, and the incident will therefore be classified as combat,” Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said.
Every year prior to Israel’s Independence Day, the Chief of Staff announces the list of soldiers and units to be awarded military decorations on Independence Day.
“Yanai Weissman, who served as a soldier in the IDF’s Nahal Brigade will receive the commendation for his courageous actions at the fatal terror attack in the Binyamin region during his vacation,” stated the IDF spokesperson. “The late staff sergeant engaged the attackers while being unarmed thus personifying IDF values.”
In a break with the longstanding tradition according to which political leaders avoid criticizing the military in public, Prime Minister Netanyahu opened the Sunday morning cabinet meeting with a resounding rebuke of IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan’s speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The speech, in which Galon said he sees in today’s Israel and among his subordinates in the IDF evidence of events that took place in Europe before the Holocaust, “was an injustice against the State of Israel and a cheapening of the memory of the Holocaust,” Netanyahu said, adding that “the comparison which rises from the Deputy Chief of Staff’s words is outrageous, and factually wrong. They should not have been said.”
“If there’s one thing which frightens me regarding the memory of the Holocaust, it’s identifying the blood curdling processes that took place in Germany and in the rest of Europe “70, 80, and 90 years ago, and discovering evidence of their taking place here, among us, in 2016,” Golan told an audience that included Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) who almost had a stroke. And when the Deputy Chief of the Jewish army added that his gripe is over the “purity of our weapons” (a uniquely Israeli term, dating back to the pre-state years, meaning when Jews use their weapons they must do so ethically) it was obvious he wasn’t referring to soccer hooliganism — he accused the IDF of harboring Nazi-like individuals.
The open rebuke was a deadly jibe at Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who defended and supported Golan’s speech and the sentiments he noted, and who spent a long hour Wednesday night debating with the PM who demanded an all out apology from Golan. Instead of a direct apology at the time, the best Ya’alon could come up with was a press release from the IDF Spokesperson’s office, which denied the allegation that the Deputy Chief had compared “unsettling phenomena” inside the IDF with events in Nazi Germany that preceded the Holocaust. But as JNi pointed out at the time, Golan absolutely made the comparison, as could be read plainly in the transcript of the speech.
The fact that a commander who compares the IDF to the Nazis may be considered to replace the current chief of staff, is yet another brick in a strangely anti-Jewish and even anti-Zionist wall being erected by the IDF leadership in recent years. The new Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, has removed Jewish education from the hands of the IDF rabbinate and handed it to HR, which in turn made it the purview of the left-leaning Education Corps; the same HR has also initiated a directive against letting Jewish soldiers grow beards, and belittled in a public speech the rabbinic principle of “He who rises to kill you, kill him first,” calling it merely a metaphor and not a moral principle. Ya’alon for his part keeps Jews in prison for many months without charges, and uses brute force to evict Jewish dwellers from their homes — while permitting widespread illegal Arab dwellings. All of the above, besides being nasty jabs against religious Zionism, are also associating Netanyahu and his government with the Israeli left’s agenda, which is tantamount to political suicide for the Likud and its leader.
“The Duputy Chief is an officer of great merit,” the PM concluded, “But what he said in this matter was completely erroneous and unacceptable to me.”
Whether or not the meritorious Golan decide to draw his own conclusions and jump under the bus, or be pushed there at a later date, Netanyahu has don what he could to disassociate himself from the high ranking officer’s infuriating message. And whether or not Ya’alon would see Sunday’s unusual attack by the PM as a message regarding his own political future in the Likud should be the subject of speculation in the weeks to come.
Following is the address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve (4 May) of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day:
Distinguished President, Reuven Rivlin, and his wife,
Distinguished guests, and first and foremost our brothers and sisters, the Holocaust survivors who lit the torches of remembrance and hope,
You moved me. My wife and I met with you in my office yesterday. You spoke from your hearts; you told us how you maintained your humanity in the most inhuman conditions; you told us how you held on to life; and how you created a new life here in Israel. It is our duty to ensure that you and all of the Holocaust survivors continue to live your lives in comfort and dignity.
Mr. President, what you said is true. We did not do enough over the years, but in the last few years we have added resources for this and we will continue to do so for one simple reason – because you deserve it. It is your right, not an act of charity. It is a debt owed to you by the State of Israel, and we will pay this debt.
A distinct message came up in our meeting. The tragedy that befell our people must never happen again. Today, in our eternal capital Jerusalem, I reiterate the commitment: There will never be another Holocaust.
What paved the way for the Holocaust? What oiled the wheels of the Nazi death machine? The answer is the lie. Nazi propaganda portrayed the Jews as the source of all evil in the world, poisoners of wells, parasites, the enemies of humanity. The defamation preceded the extermination. The Nazi regime in Germany was defeated 71 years ago, yet anti-Semitism and the lies did not die along with Hitler in his bunker. Because today, millions of people in the Muslim world read and hear horrendous fabrications about the Jewish people. They are told that Jews are the offspring of apes and pigs. They are told that Jews – and I quote – “drink the blood of their enemies in goblets.” These and other lies are spreading in social media, through means of dissemination that Hitler and Goebbels could not have even imagined.
This incitement stems from radical Islam and the Arab world, but in recent years it is joined by no less venomous incitement from the Western world. British members of parliament, Swedish high-ranking officials, French public opinion makers. I have to say that anti-Semitism today is a peculiar matchmaker –the elites who supposedly represent human progress have joined forces with the most sinister, barbaric fanatics on earth who behead people, oppress women, persecute LGBTs, destroy cultural treasures. They have teamed up to propagate the anti-Semitic virus against one target – us, against the State of Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East which upholds values of progress and human dignity.
Their hostility towards Israel has long exceeded legitimate criticism, if that ever existed. This is the total rejection of a state for the Jewish people. While throughout history the anti-Semites depicted Jews as the enemies of humanity, they now present the Jewish state as the enemy of humanity. This lie has no limits.
Only two weeks ago, the UN’s UNESCO agency – and you have to hear this to believe that these things were said – the UNESCO agency resolved that the Temple Mount, Mount Moriah, is in no way linked to the Jewish people. Pay attention to what is happening here. A global organization responsible for preserving history is offhandedly rewriting a basic fact of human history. This is willful ignorance. Even worse – it is an addiction to a lie and its dissemination around the world until it is accepted as fact. This is precisely how Jew haters have acted throughout the ages.
Today they cloak the root cause of the conflict between us and the Palestinian – the refusal to recognize the State of Israel in any borders. They justify the worst violence against us. They say we are responsible for the terrorist attack in Paris. They perceive the victim as the aggressor and the aggressor as the victim.
The Nazis said that the Jews were to blame for everything. Present-day anti-Semites say that Israel is to blame for everything. Many of the fathers of Zionism believed that the source of this perverse hatred of the Jews is our people’s unique circumstance whereby we were homeless and dispersed among the nations. They hoped, and many of them believed, that if the Jews had a state of their own, this hatred towards them would pass from the world.
Distinguished guests, regrettably reality demonstrates that this optimistic assumption of the fathers of Zionism was clearly mistaken. There were those who once thought that Zionism was the cure for anti-Semitism, and today there are those who believe that Zionism is the reason for anti-Semitism. They are also wrong.
The hatred of Jews draws on many and ancient sources, and it will not pass from the world easily. We must do three things to fight it: fight the lie, boost our strength and build our country. There is only one way to fight a lie, and that is to disprove the falsehood and spread the truth. Truth means insisting on historical facts starting with the deep attachment of our people to our country. Truth means denunciating the double standard applied to the State of Israel and only to the State of Israel. We must mobilize to spread the truth with the same fervor as our enemies mobilize to spread the lie.
We must all join this battle. And here is another fact: in today’s virtual world, it is easy to use the most advanced technology to spread the most ancient hatred. But the same technology can be used to spread the truth too, and this technology can be found in the pockets of each and every one of you. All of you have the electronic device needed to spread the truth in your pockets and in your homes. Many Jews are already doing this in Israel and around the world, and I call on you, members of modern humanity, to join us in our efforts to ward off the lies. Because, as Herzl predicted and as the rise of Nazism proved, anti-Semitism is disastrous for the Jews, but will eventually wreak havoc on all humanity, and therefore we must all fight it.
While we fight for the truth, we must also continue to build our defenses. Because even if we cannot eradicate this hatred of the Jews, we can curb the murderous attacks on us, and to this end we are diligently enhancing our military might. For many generations we were like a driven leaf, powerless, defenseless, but that is no longer the case.
The IDF is one of the strongest armies in the world, not only because of the tanks, planes, submarines and cyber, but largely because of the courage of our soldiers. Here they stand before us, and with them, standing shoulder to shoulder are all of our defense forces – the police, the Shin Bet, Mossad. They are inspired by the Jews who fought the Nazis in the allied forces, in the ghettoes, the camps and the woods.
We have learned the lesson. We do not ignore those who call for our destruction and we are not deterred by them. There are those who choose to overlook the intentions of Iran, who etches on its missiles “Israel must be wiped out,” and holds Holocaust-denial contests. These days they have a Holocaust-denial cartoon competition. Is there anything more depraved than that? We do not ignore this. Some are willing to accept Iran having nuclear weapons, but we do not and will not. Anyone planning our annihilation should know that the State of Israel is very strong. We have strong defense, offence and deterrence capabilities. The bitter enemy will no longer dwell securely; Yehudah will now dwell securely. In addition to refuting the lies and augmenting our strength we must continue to build our country, and we continue to develop Israel by leaps and bounds.
In the 68 years of Israel’s independence, Israel’s population has multiplied by ten and its economy by one hundred. We have absorbed millions of immigrants from 70 Diaspora communities. We are laying foundations, putting down tracks, breaking new frontiers in science, technology, culture, art, in every field. Israel is the definitive testament to the creative spirit and the life that beats in the hearts of the Jews. We all draw inspiration from this spirit that exists in you, the Holocaust survivors. You, who witnessed the Nazi horrors, are living testaments of the light that broke through the cracks of the darkness of death. Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren walk among us tall and proud, and like you, contribute to the country’s security, development and prosperity.
The prophet Isaiah promised to give unto the mourners of Zion splendor instead of ashes. And that is the essence of Israel’s rebirth – splendor instead of ashes. More than anything else, the flourishing State of Israel signifies the triumph of light over darkness, life over death and truth over lies.
Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day which opened with drowning the memory of the Jewish victims—undeniably the focal target of the Nazi state death industry—by mixing them with all the many other, PC approved victims. And so, Jewish survivors and children of survivors were told by the honorable Mr, Kerry that “On this day, we pause to reflect on the irredeemable loss of six million Jews and countless Poles, Roma, LGBT people, J Witnesses, and persons with disabilities brutally murdered by the Nazis because of who they were or what religion they practiced.”
And so, with one infuriating paragraph, Mr. Kerry eliminated the memory of the years 1933-1939, in which the Nazi propaganda machine concentrated on the Jews of Germany and the rest of Europe, dehumanized them and prepared the citizens of the future Nazi empire for the systematic removal, processing and methodical killing of the most productive, prosperous and moral national group on the planet.
Everyone else — Polish civilians, Gypsies, Homosexuals and the infirm — were mere footnotes in the global Nazi enterprise of the “final solution.” By opening his remarks on Holocaust Remembrance Day with deliberately discounting the Jewish loss as being part of the overall sadness of the human condition, Kerry is, in effect, acting as a Holocaust denier, even as he mourns the Holocaust.
The Nazi Holocaust was planned against the Jews, only the Jews, and saying otherwise suggests the Nazis were merely those bad people who caused a lot of pain. But that was not the case at all. The Holocaust was an experience in which humanity was divided, essentially, into two groups: those who actively hunted and gathered Jews, and those who stood by and let the hunt last for as long as they could.
The US government was aware of the anti-Jewish Nazi atrocities starting in 1933, when they began, when Jews with US citizenship started filing up in the Berlin embassy to report the beating, flogging, torture and murder of Jewish American citizens who had the misfortune to be in Germany in those satanic years. It was followed by US rejection of Jewish refugees seeking shelter on American shores, and was culminated by the US military actively prolonging the operations of the death camps by refusing to bomb the camps and the railroad tracks used to haul the last remaining members of our Jewish families.
“We draw strength from the heroic survivors who summoned the courage to share what they endured so others might draw from their wisdom and experience and who answered evil in the most powerful way possible – by living full lives, raising children and grandchildren, and advancing the ideals of equality and justice,” writes Kerry with some eloquence. This after having spent last summer bringing back into the fold of civilized nations the Islamic Republic, which is engaged in the most public and unabashed fashion in a state-sponsored effort to annihilate Jews. Kerry was indefatigable in his ceaseless work, spanning several years, to endow the Islamic Republic with the hundreds of billions of dollars it will require to complete its Jew-killing endeavor. Has the man no sense of shame at all?
Kerry concludes: “It is our solemn obligation to not only preach compassion, but practice it – and to do all we can to ensure that ‘never again’ is a promise not only made, but kept.”
For one thing, never again will John Kerry serve as Secretary of State; and never again will he come barreling through Jerusalem and Ramallah trying to win a Nobel prize for himself on the backs of Jewish homesteaders. Other than that, statements like Never Again should be relegated to when you wake up after the all-night binge and can’t find the Alka Seltzer.
Jerusalem (TPS) – When Pnina Katsir turned 80, she finally told her daughter a secret she had kept for decades: she was a survivor of the Holocaust.
“I didn’t tell anyone. My kids didn’t know,” Katsir told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) at a ceremony for Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Wednesday evening. “I decreed silence on myself in order to raise a normal, happy family – not living in the shadow of that awful time.”
Yet Katsir, now 86, boldly recounted her experiences before a crowd of dozens at the Jerusalem ceremony, including many fellow survivors, their children and grandchildren, as well as a group of female soldiers. They had gathered to share stories and commemorate the dead as part of the AMCHA organization, an Israeli psychological and social support group for Holocaust survivors, which Katsir credits with giving her the tools to finally express herself.
“There was a conspiracy of silence among survivors and Israeli society,” explained Elisheva Flamm-Oren, AMCHA’s director of planning and development. “They were afraid to tell their children and burden them with what they went through, and Israeli society also didn’t want to hear it – they preferred to project strength.”
AMCHA was started 30 years ago by Holocaust survivors and health care professionals to address this “conspiracy of silence” and provide survivors with the support they need. They now cater to 20,000 Holocaust survivors in fifteen centers across the country, boasting 480 mental health professionals and a thousand volunteers. In the past year alone they logged 186,000 hours of therapy, 30% of which took place in house calls to survivors too frail to leave their homes.
“There’s a lot of power in meeting other survivors,” Flamm-Oren told TPS. “AMCHA created a place where you can come and talk about the past without fear. We want them to know that they are normal people who went through unimaginably abnormal circumstances.”
And the survivors do more than talk. They participate in AMCHA’s creative writing seminars and theatre troupes—who recently staged a play starring a 97-year-old actress—all designed to give survivors creative outlets to process their past traumas and communicate with younger generations.
“They know how to get you to open up,” said Katsir, who read a moving composition describing her childhood in a Ukrainian ghetto, including the “nightly task” she shared with her sister to clutch their grandmother’s legs as she slept in the hopes of keeping her warm.
For many survivors, the creative process has been enormously satisfying.
“I have a kind of Holocaust disease – it actually makes me feel good to talk about the Holocaust,” Elias Feinzelberg told TPS after reciting the Kaddish, the solemn prayer for the dead, at the ceremony. Feinzelberg, a very active 98-year-old who was born in Lodz, Poland, endured nine different concentration camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau.
“I spoke at two schools today,” Feinzelberg said, proudly pointing to the pins on his blazer bearing the names of educational institutions around the world in which he has shared his story.
“Once I opened up,” Katsir told TPS, “I realized how much energy I had wasted all these years on not talking.”