With the coronavirus pandemic expected to still be disrupting international travel next month, the Israeli government has turned to alternative methods of commemorating Memorial Day for the many relatives of fallen Israelis who live abroad.
Hundreds of pebbles, each with a personal message handwritten by bereaved families, will be brought to Israel from around the world in time for the April 13-14 commemoration, when they will be laid on the graves of fallen soldiers and those killed in terror attacks.
The placing of a small stone on a grave is an old Jewish tradition.
The Foreign Ministry and Israeli embassies will assist in gathering 500 pebbles from 15 countries, which will be flown to Israel via diplomatic mail, Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, reported Tuesday.
Navah, an Israeli organization that offers support for bereaved families, said the project is an expansion of an initiative it began last year in Mexico, and aims to enable families to make a physical connection with their loved ones despite the limitations on travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Each pebble will be laid on the appropriate grave by volunteers in Israel, and images of the event will be sent to the family abroad.
Chavi Ehrenfeld, co-manager of Navah, said the “Stone with a person’s heart” project was started in 2020, when 30 stones were brought from Mexico with the help of Israel’s embassy in the country.
“We understood that there is a real need for this project and that it can be expanded,” she said. “We wanted to enable families to do that nearest thing to the physical [act] and to send us stones. We feel the need to take action because of the situation.”
“The thought of a mother for whom the only thing she has is a burial plot she cannot visit, it’s a horrible feeling,” Ehrenfeld said.
“We thought this was a welcome initiative,” a representative of the military attaché at the Israeli embassy in London told Zman. “This is a good opportunity to reach out, and those who want to participate are welcome.”
Last year, as Israel was in the grip of its first wave of coronavirus infections, the government banned visits to military cemeteries on Memorial Day out of fear that the thousands who usually attend the sites would inadvertently spread the virus.
This year it is not yet clear what restrictions will be in place. Israel is in the process of rolling back the third lockdown it has ordered since the virus outbreak began early last year. The government is aiming that by the end of March the entire population over 16 will be vaccinated against the virus.