The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Memorial Day ceremony on Wednesday morning honored a tragic event in Jewish history. In 1961, during a secret mission intended to bring Moroccan Jewish olim to Israel, the Egoz ship sank, resulting in the loss of 44 lives, 43 of whom were olim.
Among the Egoz victims was Mossad operative Haim Tzarfati z”l. Authorities were able to locate 22 bodies, which were then buried in a Jewish cemetery, but the rest were lost at sea. In 1992, the bodies were moved to Jerusalem’s Mt. Herzl where they were given a ceremonial burial.
“Our hearts are heavy with grief for every man, woman, and child who died simply because they dared to be part of the miracle that is Israel,” said Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Isaac Herzog. “Today, we unite to honor their individual stories. We especially remember those tales of hardship and sacrifice to become Israeli. In that vein, we pay tribute to the victims of the Egoz ship and Haim Tzarfati. They sailed from Morocco on a stormy winter night 60 years ago and never reached their destination. 44 people lost at sea – children, women, men – Jews whose only desire was to start a new life in the Land of Israel. The ship sank but did not drown the longing for Zion.”
Chairman Herzog and Gila Gutman Azulay—who lost most of her family in the tragedy—lit a torch to commemorate the victims, as well as the men and women who have died defending Israel.
“The tragedy of the drowning of the Egoz ship is a national and a personal tragedy,” said Gutman Azulay. “At home in Casablanca, I was always given the feeling that our life in Morocco was temporary. We all longed for the Land of Israel, it was our souls’ desire. My sister Penny and I joined a local underground group of children set to immigrate to Israel and were told that the rest of our families would join us later. We did not say goodbye to my mother and my siblings. I couldn’t have imagined that we’d never see them again. A few days later, my mother and five brothers and sisters perished in the disaster.”
The memorial event was organized by The Jewish Agency, with the participation of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), the Jewish National Fund (JNF), Keren Hayesod, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), and the Jewish Federations of Canada (JFC).
“Our demand from every state and government is clear and unequivocal: the Jewish citizens living in your country are equal. It is your responsibility to keep them safe,” said World Zionist Organization Chairman Yaakov Hagoel. “The World Zionist Organization is committed to battling antisemitism around the world and will stand its ground as one of the leaders in the fight against this horrid phenomenon. We embrace Jewish families from around the world for the precious loss and the endless dedication they have given us as a country.”
Rebecca Caspi, JFNA Senior Vice President of Global Operations and its Director-General in Israel, said: “The Jewish community in North America joins its Israeli brothers and sisters and bows its head in memory of the fallen. Also, the Jewish-American community salutes the IDF soldiers and the Israeli security services who guard the State of Israel and Jews around the world – today, and every day.”
Keren Hayesod World Chairman Sam Grundwerg said: “The Jewish communities and supporters of Keren Hayesod, our partners around the world who contribute to Israel’s security, including some who send their children to enlist as lone soldiers in the IDF, stand by Israel, remember the fallen today and grieve in pain together with the bereaved families.”
JNF Chairman Avraham Duvdevani, JFC Director-General Arie Levy; The Jewish Agency’s CEO and Director General Amira Ahronoviz and Chair of The Jewish Agency Workers’ Committee, Hanan Mor.
“It is our duty to build, develop and live on our land while protecting its borders from enemies. On a day like this, we remember the finest of our sons and daughters who fell in the battle for the land, the vision, and the promise of a home for the Jewish people,” said Duvdevani. “I grieve for the families and friends of the fallen. Each life lost leaves behind an entire world that gathers the pieces and tries, in memory of the fallen, to move forward and honor their greatest sacrifice to us. In their death, they commanded us to live.”