Israeli Memorial Day

After siren wails, Rivlin urges Israelis to fight for ‘a more just home’

President says ‘geography of pain’ stretches across country, serves to unite rather than divide people

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) speaks during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, April 21, 2015.  (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin (R) speaks during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, April 21, 2015. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin opened Israel’s national Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Tuesday with a plea for Israelis to fight for the country’s character, not just its survival.

Speaking moments after the traditional minute-long siren brought the country to a standstill, the president urged Israelis to consider the meaning of the sacrifice of the nation’s 23,320 fallen, calling on all Israelis to honor their memory by fighting for the “essence and idea for which the State of Israel was established.”

“The deaths of those who died defending our home force us to deepen our commitment to building that home as a more just home, a more compassionate home, a home where not only those who have fallen, but all those within it are equal,” Rivlin said.

The president spoke shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address at Jerusalem’s Yad Labanim memorial to fallen soldiers, in which he said the Jewish people have no future without the state of Israel.

The president reflected on the pain of loss which unites Israelis across the country, which he encountered while visiting the families of the 67 IDF soldiers who were killed in last summer’s Gaza war.

“The geography of pain, as I learned, stretched the length and breadth of the country, yet it did not divide it. Death struck at the door of many, regardless of their religious beliefs. No camp was left untouched by death,” he said.

While Israel must work to prevent future wars, Rivlin said that it was equally obligated by the current reality to be prepared for the next conflict.

“We are obligated to continue to live, for the sake of our loved ones who are lost, and for our children who remain… They tried to eradicate us from the face of the earth, and we survived,” he said.

“The bereaved family is intertwined, with a shared fate. A fate which was forced upon them. Israeli society, with all its camps, is connected not just in terms of shared destiny, but in terms of purpose and meaning,” Rivlin continued.

The fallen, Rivlin said, “who laid down their lives not for us to merely survive, but for us to live… this is our debt to their courage and their lives that are no more.”

Speaking after the president, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said he “salutes the memory of our comrades in arms, Israel’s fallen who died in the war for the independence of the State of Israel and the security of its people.”

Eisenkot said the Western Wall, before which he spoke, represented the “great history of our people, and to the ability of the people of Israel to build and grow, to defend ourselves and to fight for our existence as a united, independent and strong people.”

“Our soldiers stand shoulder to shoulder, united in determination and courage, in the face of enemies north and south, and work together by land, air and sea at all times to strengthen the security of the state,” he added.

On Wednesday, another official memorial ceremony will be held at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem and will be attended by Eisenkot, as well as senior Israel Defense Forces officers and politicians. At 1 p.m. Wednesday, a separate commemoration for Israel’s terror victims will take place at Mount Herzl.

Memorial Day will end abruptly at sundown Wednesday with the start of Independence Day, traditionally ushered in with fireworks and street celebrations nationwide.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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