Israeli President Reuven Rivlin delivered a moving 13-minute speech last night at the opening ceremony of the annual Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah in Hebrew) at Yad Vashem, on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.
Yom Hashoah is a solemn day in the Jewish state – places of entertainment are closed, while memorial services are held in schools, military bases, municipalities and institutions across the nation to honor the memory of Holocaust victims. Many survivors attend these ceremonies and are invited to share their personal stories with the public, and especially the youth.
With Israel continuing to ease COVID-19 restrictions in recent days, this year’s public gathering was even more poignant. The event was particularly emotional for survivors who only recently reunited with relatives after more than a year of social isolation and other restrictions imposed by the government to protect Israel’s elderly population from contracting the deadly COVID-19 virus.
During his speech, Rivlin paid honor to the memory of the 900 Holocaust survivors who died in Israel from the coronavirus in the past year.
“Nine hundred Holocaust survivors passed away just in Israel as a direct result of the pandemic,” he began.
“They survived the ghettos and the death camps, the immigrant ships and the internment camps. But the final battle of their lives was fought with them bewildered and isolated, behind masks and gloves, yearning for contact but parted from their loved ones. This evening, our hearts are with them and their families,” he said. “We remember their courage, their spirit. We remember the inspiration and strength they gave us and still give us. May their memories be a blessing.”
Rivlin directed several impactful statements toward Israeli Holocaust survivors – estimated at 180,000 – reminding them of their crucial role in the historical context of the greater Jewish identity.
“Whether we want it or not, the memory of the Holocaust shapes our identity as a people. The Holocaust places before us – its victims, the Jewish people and the State of Israel – an infinite task of remembrance. Bearing that burden of remembrance is no easy task.”
He added, “Our historical memory requires us to continue learning and teaching about the Holocaust. To research without limits and without fear or favor, to know the history in detail, to leave no stone unturned. To try and touch, to understand the inconceivable.”
“You, Holocaust survivors – heroes of our rebirth – who found the fortitude to get up from the ground soaked in blood and tears,” he continued, “to look forward, to choose life, to love, to laugh, to enjoy, to believe, to build and to create. To build a national home and a home of your own. To raise children in love and hope.”
In another touching moment, he said, “I thank you for the privilege you gave me to walk with you in the paths of remembrance from Holocaust to rebirth. I bow my head to you. I will forever bear your testimony in my heart.”
Toward the end of Rivlin’s remarks – in a farewell of sorts – he said, “Soon, I will leave my official position as president, but I am not taking leave of my commitment as a person, a Jew, an Israeli to remember and remind, to educate according to the values you have passed on to us.”
The ceremony was broadcast live and attracted viewers across the globe, with simultaneous multi-language translations into English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Arabic, for the first time. You can watch the entire Holocaust Remembrance Day official ceremony here.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.