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Speech

‘Our sons and daughters who fell did not ask who was right-wing, who was left-wing’

The full text of President Isaac Herzog’s address at the start of Israeli Memorial Day

President Isaac Herzog addresses the state ceremony for Israel's Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims, at Jerusalem's Western Wall, on May 3, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
President Isaac Herzog addresses the state ceremony for Israel's Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims, at Jerusalem's Western Wall, on May 3, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog’s speech at the State Opening Ceremony for Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Hostile Acts at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem, Tuesday, 3 May 2022.

The siren that sliced through our lives a few minutes ago is the purest moment in the Israeli calendar. A moment that plucks the chords of our souls. A moment of mighty, bitter grief. Of zichronot, of malchuyot, of shofarot. A moment that seeks to open the gates of heaven on Judgment Day, to plead for the People of Israel in judgment. A moment that speaks to the essence of this week, the essence of the State of Israel itself: from the deepest grief to the miracle of independence and rebirth.

The poet Natan Yonatan, who lost his son, First Lieutenant Lior Yonatan, in the Yom Kippur War, wrote thus: “My beautiful son. I keep dying over you, day by day… Day by day, I die over you all over again.” Thus he wrote. So many beautiful girls and boys. The most beautiful. And you, dear and beloved members of this family of grief, keep dying over them day by day.

And there is none to comfort you.

Beloved families, mothers, fathers, widows, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, loved ones, warriors and spouses, wounded veterans and victims of terror attacks, heroes of Israel’s wars, IDF chief of staff and heads of the security services, chief rabbis, citizens of Israel, ladies and gentlemen:

Here, at the Wailing Wall, in silence and sacred trepidation, we bow our heads in memory of the sons and daughters, the fallen soldiers of Israel’s wars and victims of terror attacks. From south to north, east to west, members of all communities and sections of society, members of all waves of aliyah, of all religions and faiths. Partners in pride and in pain.

They served together, and their unity was an obvious fact. They were buried in the soil of this good land in the binding uniformity of its cemeteries, and their unity was an obvious fact. We remember them. Their faces, their voices, their rolling laughter. The shells. The mines. The bitter news.

Ehud Shahar, the son of Aliza and Aharon (Artek), was born to a family that had helped to found Merhavia, in the Jezreel Valley. In 1954, when Ehud enlisted in the IDF, he wrote to his parents: “We are becoming better soldiers in the army of our homeland. We shall do our utmost to defend it.”

In February 1955, in Operation Black Arrow, to eliminate terror nests in Gaza, Ehud was shot and killed with seven of his comrades. His mother, Aliza, was forced to break the heartbreaking news to her daughter Michal: “My daughter, we no longer have a brother.” A friend from Merhavia, Ilan Borenovski, carried him on his back from the battlefield back to Israel, to his home, to eternal rest.

Three pairs of parents chose to name their children after Ehud Shahar, of blessed memory: Ehud Shtock, Ehud Falk, and Ehud Borenovski.

The four Ehuds cited by President Isaac Herzog in his May 3, 2022 speech (clockwise from top left): Ehud Shtock, Ehud Shahar, Ehud Falk, Ehud Borenovski. (Courtesy, the president’s office)

The first infant was Ehud Shtock, son of Ruth and Asa, born in the middle of the thirty-day mourning period after Ehud Shahar fell in battle. Soon after him, before the one-year mourning period in Merhavia was over, a son was born to Ehud Shahar’s cousin Adina and her husband Simha. His name was Ehud Falk. Maj. Ehud Falk, an air force pilot, was killed together with Lt. Col. Ram Koller during an aerial exercise over the Judean Desert in the summer of 1988. “He was always more than everyone,” his friends wrote about him after he fell. “The most handsome, the most intelligent, the greatest hero of them all.” He was buried on the grounds of Merhavia, next to Ehud Shahar, his namesake.

When Ilan Borenovski and his wife Deganit had a son, they too decided to name him after Ehud, Ilan’s friend, who had fallen beyond enemy lines, and whom he had carried home, speechless, together with their comradeship. The comradeship that remained alive and well. Udi Borenovski volunteered to join the naval commandos, and on one cold and stormy night in December 1986 was killed in a parachuting exercise. When his father Ilan, having buried his son Ehud and his friend Ehud, meets young soldiers, he tells them, “We have no other country,” and requests: “Do your best to protect it.”

And what of Ehud Shtock? The first born was the last to fall. Udi Shtock, later Sadan, was the chief of security at the Israeli Embassy in Turkey, when a Palestinian terror group planted a bomb in his car. He fell in March 1992, two weeks before his thirty-seventh birthday. I spoke this week with his widow Rachel, who is here with us tonight. She too, like Ilan Borenovski, made the same, emotional request: “Protect our country.”

Three men called Ehud, all named after the same Ehud: Ehud Shahar, Ehud Falk, Ehud Borenovski, and Ehud Shtock-Sadan. Four men called Ehud. Four exemplary characters. Four warriors who with their names, manners, and bodies embodied the intensely Israeli mutual responsibility and solidarity that is passed down the generations. Four of our sons, who together with following generations, just like the generation of Maj. Sammy Ben-Naim, who fell in the Second Lebanon War, and of First Lieutenant Moshe “Moshiko” Asenko Maleko, who fell in Operation Protective Edge, and whose loved ones are taking part in tonight’s ceremony, are passing on the torch of sacrifice and mission. People who were willing to risk their lives for our sake, for the sake of our homeland.

Dear and beloved families, my encounters with you over the years, and especially in recent months, are etched on my heart. The grief-stricken, tired eyes of the father who longs for his son, “devoured by a savage beast” (Genesis 37:20), leave me no rest. The stories of the mother, pride and pain interwoven inside her, unable to find consolation after her son fell somewhere far away, her arms extended as if to hug someone who can no longer hug her back. The sorrow of the young man who lost his warrior sister, his heroine and his best friend. The tears of the young lover whose soulmate has left her, never to return. And like them, so many, many more—far too many—at whose doors grief came knocking, turning their worlds upside down forever. And there is no solace.

Our sons and daughters, who fell in defense of our state, fought together and fell together. They did not ask, nor did anyone ask them, who was right-wing and who was left-wing. Who was religious. Who was secular. Who was Jewish and who was not Jewish. Nor did grief pose these questions, to them or to you. They fell as Israelis, defending Israel

Their heartbreak is felt not only for those who once were, but also for those who will no longer be. For their intensely tangible absence, every day of the year, not only on Yom HaZikaron—the Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers.

Our sons and daughters, who fell in defense of our state, fought together and fell together. They did not ask, nor did anyone ask them, who was right-wing and who was left-wing. Who was religious. Who was secular. Who was Jewish and who was not Jewish. Nor did grief pose these questions, to them or to you. They fell as Israelis, defending Israel. In cemeteries, arguments fall silent. Between the headstones, not a sound. A silence that demands that we fulfill, together, their single dying wish: the resurrection of Israel. The building of Israel. United, consolidated, responsible for each other. For we are all sisters and brothers.

Dear friends, the family of grief. Citizens of Israel. Over the past year, past weeks, and indeed past few days, grief and pain have struck us time and again. Even today, our enemies rise up against us to destroy us with hateful terror, and as always they find us ready and determined, with one hand holding a weapon and the other extended in dialogue and peace. It is precisely in these heartbreaking moments, escorting our heroes and heroines on their final journeys, together with their beloved families, whose pain instantly becomes our own—precisely in these moments, we discover time and again the sheer power of our wonderful and marvelous nation, a nation that knows how to overcome any obstacle. Yes, we do have a wonderful and marvelous nation! Our hearts, punctured by pain, must not be allowed to make us forget the mighty journey that we have undertaken. A journey of generations of wandering, a journey of hope and fulfillment. A journey that culminated with immense pride, with an exemplary state, a state for whose existence the heroes and heroines of Israel’s wars have fallen.

In these hallowed moments, I want to comfort, thank, and embrace, on behalf of the people of Israel, the commanders and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Police, the Shin Bet, Mossad, and of all the defense, intelligence, and internal security agencies, wherever they may be. You protect us day and night, with ferocity of spirit, with a sense of mission, with determination, and with devotion. May God protect you when you go, and when you return, for now and evermore.

My sisters and brothers, citizens of Israel. “A song of ascents: When the LORD restores the fortunes of Zion, we were like dreamers.” So wrote the Psalmist. Tomorrow, at this hour, once again we shall all be like dreamers, as our national flag flies high at the top of the flagpole. It is thanks to them! And thanks to you, the family of grief. This is our duty to the fallen, our duty to you, and our duty to future generations: to sustain a strong and prosperous Jewish and democratic state, built of a dazzling mosaic of communities, which all together constitute, in solidarity, a proud and cohesive nation. Vision, action, and hope.

From here, from the last remnants of our Temple, on behalf of all of Israel’s citizens, I send my wishes for the recovery of the wounded, physically and mentally—those who day by day, hour by hour, must contend with scars and sores, even when they are invisible to others. From here, I pray for the speedy return of our captured and the missing soldiers and civilians, and the task of bringing them back home remains on our shoulders. May the memory of Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of hostile acts remain bounded in the bond of life and preserved in the hearts of our beloved nation, from generation to generation.

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