Among countless Memorial Day events taking place around the country on Tuesday evening was a ceremony in Jerusalem dedicated to commemorating ultra-Orthodox Israel Defense Forces soldiers who died during their service.
Hundreds of members of bereaved families attended the event, along with Jerusalem’s chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Aryeh Stern, Shas party founder Aryeh Deri, and soldiers and commanders of the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion.
The ceremony, now in its fourth year, focused on the connection between Haredi soldiers and all segments of Israeli society. It was organized by the Netzah Yehuda Association, which helps Haredi soldiers in the IDF.
“In the spirit of our fallen, we perform our tasks every day. In this spirit, we train our soldiers, and in the field, we act according to the stories of valor and our tradition, remembering their way,” said Lt. Gen. Mati Shevach, commander of the battalion.
“I can still hear the voices of those I knew; in their voices I hear the devotion of the soul, the heroism, the person they were,” he added.
The ceremony represents an ongoing change in the way the ultra-Orthodox public regards Memorial Day. In the past, many in that community did not take an active role in national memorial events and individuals were often filmed refusing to stand still during the sirens that wail throughout Israel twice during the day.
“We were privileged to establish a moving tradition in which the victims of the Haredi programs receive a proper commemoration at a state event tailored to the Haredi public,” said Rabbi David Fuchs, one of Netzah Yehuda’s rabbis and one of the founders of the ultra-Orthodox programs in the IDF.
The CEO of the Netzah Yehuda association, Yossi Levy, said, “Haredi society is no longer left behind, but shares the memory of IDF casualties in a respectful and appropriate manner and in the spirit of the Torah.”
Traditionally, many ultra-Orthodox have been reluctant in the past to identify with the State of Israel due to its secular government, among other reasons. Some sects are non-Zionist or even anti-Zionist.
Fifty-six soldiers died during their military service since Israel’s last Memorial Day. Another 84 disabled veterans died due to complications from injuries sustained during their service.
The numbers brought the total of those who have died during service to the country since 1860 to 24,068.
The commemoration day, established in 1951 by then-prime minister and defense minister David Ben-Gurion, was set for the 4th of Iyar on the Jewish calendar, the day before Independence Day, which begins immediately after Memorial Day.