Inscribing the memory of their sacrifice
May 25, 2018
The fate of Israel and, specifically, the reunification of Jerusalem were decided 50 years ago at Ammunition Hill. As Israel mourns the fallen on Remembrance Day, Jewish National Fund-USA ensures that the legacy of every name on its Wall of Honor won't be forgotten
"In that warm and beautiful land, does evil reign and do calamities happen, too?" So wrote Israel's national poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik in his poem El Hatzipor (To the Bird) in 1892. It was these words that stuck in the mind both at the unveiling of new names added to Jewish National Fund-USA's Wall of Honor at Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill and the Remembrance Day Ceremony to honor and remember over 23,500 Israeli soldiers and civilians who have died in wars and terrorist attacks.
Originally an ammunition store for British police during the Mandate period in the 1930s, Ammunition Hill was captured by the Jordanians in 1948 during Israel's War for Independence. The site became one of the key, and most heavily defended, points in keeping Jerusalem divided in the years that followed. Later, in the 1967 Six-Day War, Ammunition Hill became the tipping point during a pivotal battle. Believing they outnumbered the Jordanians by three to one based on erroneous intelligence, about 150 Israeli paratroopers attacked the hill. In fact, the Jordanians numbered 150. Of the Israeli paratroopers who attacked on that morning, 36 were killed and 90 were wounded-a nearly 100 percent casualty rate. JNF-USA President-Elect Bruce K. Gould, who is also a major donor to Ammunition Hills's Commemoration Hall and Amphitheater, described the site as "a special place that united Jerusalem after 2,000 years for Jewish people everywhere."
Commemoration at the site is somewhat unusual as it recalls, through a living testimony of photos and explanations, those who gave their lives on its soil. It does not memorialize those who fell, but rather it deliberately shows how these men lived. This highlights that they are not simply names etched into a memorial wall, but individuals who were in the prime of their lives. In addition, Jewish National Fund-USA's Wall of Honor pays tribute to Jewish men and women who served in various armies around the world. What is unique is that the dates of service are highlighted rather than the person's lifespan, making it a tribute to their service and not a solemn memorial of their death.
Several Jewish National Fund-USA donors unveiled new additions to the Wall including Michael Blank (Boston, MA), Avram Cooperman (Boca Raton, FL), Marni Kriss (Palmetto Bay, FL), Rosabelle Leifer (North Palm Beach, FL), and Addison Schuster (Boynton Beach, FL). The names on the plaques that they unveiled joined those of hundreds of other Jewish soldiers, their brothers and sisters. These plaques will continue to be a reminder, for years to come, of the strength and heroism of Jewish people around the world.
Jim Riola (Orlando, FL), co-chair of the JNF-USA Arad Task Force, gave a particularly emotional dedication speech. The plaque he and his wife, Jill, unveiled was in memory of Sgt. Ron Yitzhak Kukia, a 19-year-old soldier in the Nahal Brigade who was murdered by a terrorist while waiting for a bus in Arad. "I received a news alert from the Jerusalem Post about an incident in Arad and I was so worried," said Riola. "I didn't know Ron or his family, but I wanted to honor him and I felt that Ammunition Hill was the perfect place for him to be memorialized." Riola emphasized that the experience showed him that incidents such as this highlight how quickly the Jewish National Fund-USA family comes together in times of need.
Jewish National Fund-USA Initiatives Coordinator Yoel Rosby, who previously served as the JNF-Ammunition Hill Liaison, put the ceremony into some context. "We are about to enter one of the saddest days in our calendar," he said as the time for the opening of the Memorial Day Ceremony approached. "It shows what the Land of Israel has cost and this is the right time for Jews from across the globe to honor and remember Israeli and Jewish heroism-for standing up for what they believe in."
As the crowd began to gather for the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center Memorial Ceremony, named in honor of an American-born lone soldier who fell fighting during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, dissonant echoes of the past resonated. Mentioning Bialik, one thinks of his poem The City of Slaughter, written accusatorily about the Jews' timid response to the Kishinev Pogrom, one of the events that convinced him that a new country was needed to fashion a new Jew, one that could proudly recreate the example of the Maccabees of old. One was also reminded of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a time when Jews, faced with insurmountable odds, tried to choose the manner of both their life and death.
It was this kind of heroism that was reflected in the story told of Eitan Naveh-a new father when he went to fight at Ammunition Hill in 1967-who laid down machine gun fire to cover those in his unit from attacks. He lost his life during the battle to give his fellow soldiers the opportunity to live and fight another day for the land of Israel. It was for this bravery that Naveh was awarded Israel's highest military award, the Medal of Honor.
This heroism is also seen in the story of Yigal Arad, a medic who time and again evacuated wounded comrades in arms from the fray, refusing to take rest and let another take up his post. He would win Israel's second highest military honor, the Medal of Courage, for his actions in the Six-Day War. He later lost his life on a battlefield in the Sinai during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
"We are, all of us, one nation, and the best reason that those who came before us gave their all, so that we could continue to carry on the work that must be done," said Jewish National Fund-USA President Dr. Sol Lizerbram. "Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) are two days which can never be separated, for without those who made the ultimate sacrifice, there would not today be the State of Israel."
A group of U.S. veterans were present for the ceremony. At the end they remarked it was moving that an entire country comes together to remember their fallen, a sharp contrast to the "barbecues and sales" that they said too often constituted Memorial Day in the U.S.
"In the U.S., people are so far removed from where battles physically took place," said Glenn Zemanek (New York, NY), who served as a Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4), U.S. Army Special Forces, and saw action in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. "At Ammunition Hill we are standing on the soil where Israeli soldiers fell."
"Everyone seems to have a connection," said Ken Knox (New York, NY), who served as a Sgt. First Class with the U.S. Army Special Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It is touching that everyone, from children to adults, knows a lot about their history."
Israel fell silent at 11 a.m. for two minutes, as it does every single year on Yom HaZikaron, to remember it's fallen and ensure that they shall not be forgotten.