We stand with Israel on Yom HaZikaron

May 16, 2024 | Article, Newsletter

On Yom HaZikaron, the day dedicated to fallen soldiers and civilian victims of terrorism, a siren sounds throughout Israel, and everyone stops what they are doing and stands silently to honor those who have lost their lives.

On May 12, at Temple Sinai, more than 200 Coloradans gathered, and, led by Senior Rabbi Rick Rheins and JEWISHcolorado Shlicha Nelly Ben Tal, stood in solidarity with their Israeli counterparts, listening to the siren that marks Yom HaZikaron.

Yom HaZikaron 2024

With prayers, heartfelt messages, music from the Denver Jewish Day School Choir and the Colorado Hebrew Chorale, the reading of names, and a conversation with a young married Israeli couple in the IDF, JEWISHcolorado convened the community to grieve for lives lost—some who died in the war for Israel’s existence in 1949 and some who died just months ago in the terrorist attack of October 7.

Ben Tal began the evening by painting a picture of Yom HaZikaron in Israel—a day when life comes to a standstill and generations of families travel from cemetery to cemetery to console those who mourn personal loss, whether it goes back decades or days.

“Israel is a small country, and each of us carries a personal connection to this day,” Ben Tal said. “We all know someone. We all have someone to hug and support. And we must remember that we have a duty to honor the memory. We must strive to build a better future, to choose life, and to ensure that their sacrifices were not in vain.”

JEWISHcolorado Shinshinim Talia Shalom and Afek Barda at Yom HaZikaron

Afek Barda and Talia Shalom, two of JEWISHcolorado’s Shinshinim who will soon leave Colorado and join the IDF, recited Yizkor.

“We remember the fallen of the Israel Defense Forces, the victims of terror and tragedy. May the darkness of their loss not obscure the light of peace. They were in love with the land and in love with life. For the agony, the tears, the mothers and the fathers, for the children who were and for the children yet to be. We remember.”

According to tradition, Yom HaZikaron is a time to call out the names of fallen heroes. But Ben Tal acknowledged that this year, the sheer number of names “defies comprehension,” so representatives from the community read names of individuals with connections through family or friendship with Colorado. The youngest was four years old when he died. The oldest was 70 years old.

Yom HaZikaron 2024

The deaths evoked long-ago battles not forgotten—the Six Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Shlom HaGalil War in 1982, the Lebanon War in 1991 and in 2006, the Gaza Operation of 2008, Operation Protective Edge of 2014. The names also told a story of civilian lives lost—“killed in a terror attack by a sniper,” “stabbed by a terrorist,” “killed in a terror attack while delivering food to Israeli soldiers.”

Among the names read aloud were those who died on and since October 7 including:

  • Shahar “Izz” Kadman, 34, a JCC Ranch Camp staff member, murdered on October 7 at the Nova Music Festival;
  • Elia Toledano, 28, a family friend of Rabbi Cantor Robbie Sherwin, died a captive in Gaza in December 2023;
  • David Schwartz, 26, nephew of Marc and Sarah Geiger Gitler, died in January 2024, while serving in the IDF.

“Let us remember and mourn the radiance of youth, the preciousness of courage, the sanctity of will, and the devotion of self-sacrifice that perished in this fierce battle,” said Marc Gitler, in memory of his nephew. “Let our mourning not go silent and not be comforted and not fade away, until Israel returns and redeems its plundered land and dwells upon it in safety and peace for all the generations to come.”

Young IDF fighters

Renée Rockford, President & CEO of JEWISHcolorado, introduced the evening’s special guests, Elad and Hodya Blitz, married and living in Efrat, both just 22 years old. Both were serving in the IDF before October 7. On the day of the terrorist attack, Elad joined a special operations unit to help defend the residents of the Gaza Envelope. He was the first person to enter Gaza on foot and was subsequently injured. Hodya joined a special unit loading rocket launchers with ammunition, assisting forces in the Gaza area to destroy enemy targets.

They talked about why they wanted to become combat fighters in the IDF.

IDF soldiers speak at Yom HaZikaron 2024

“Growing up, I always felt safe because there were soldiers day and night securing our villages,” Hodya said. “This is our generation. This is our turn.”

“It’s our turn to give what we can give to the Israeli citizens and to the country that is the home of the Jewish people,” Elad added.

Hodya recalled their race to return to their bases on October 7.

“We tried not to panic. And all the way there were rocket alerts. At first, what you need to do is to stop and lay near the car so you won’t get hurt. But after the first alert, Elad and I looked at each other, and we said, ‘We don’t have time for that. We need to get to our bases as fast as we can, and we need to organize our soldiers as fast as we can.’ So we didn’t stop until it was the moment to say goodbye. And at some junction in Israel, in the middle of the road, we looked at each other for the last time not knowing if and when we were going to see each other again.”

Yom HaZikaron 2024

Elad expressed gratefulness for the support from American Jews.

“When I was in the hospital, I saw a lot of Jewish people from the States and from all over the world who had come straight from the airport to tell us that they were with us,” he said. “What I took from this was that I’m not alone. I didn’t fight for nothing. I fought so that you will have a home. I will have a home. And we will have a Jewish place that will always exist.”

Rockford closed the evening with a reminder of the Jewish teaching that a person dies three deaths—the first is the death of the body, the second is the departure of the soul, and the third death occurs the very last time a living person says their name aloud. At this Yom HaZikaron, with so many names spoken, the memories of heroes with connections to Colorado were kept alive.