Yom HaZikaron: A solemn service of remembrance
On Monday, April 24, 2023, more than 200 Coloradans stopped their busy lives and took time to gather at the Hebrew Educational Alliance (HEA) as JEWISHcolorado marked Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s official Remembrance Day dedicated to fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.
Young Israelis visiting from JEWISHcolorado’s partner region in Israel, Ramat HaNegev, lit the candles before the service. “It is a hard day for an Israeli to be away from home,” one observer noted.
Men, women, and children with connections to Colorado were remembered and honored.
Children from Denver Jewish Day opened the program by singing “A Million Stars.”
“I wanted one second to say good-bye. Give me just another second to say good-bye.”
“We Jews are experts in holding opposites,” Rabbi Salomon Gruenwald said in his opening remarks, reminding everyone that Yom Ha’atzmaut, marking the Israeli Declaration of Independence, will soon bring great joy. “But before we celebrate, we have a solemn duty to honor those who have been killed for an idea.”
“Today we remember G*d’s heroic children, those who have given their lives in defense of a holy nation,” said Rabbi Sarah Shulman in prayer. “G*d give us the strength to become our best selves in their memory with hope and integrity.”
“The pressure to honor those who fell, to remember them, to be worthy of their sacrifice is hard to describe,” said Itai Divinsky, JEWISHcolorado Shaliach. “Every Yom HaZikaron, I find myself making resolutions to be better, to contribute more, to use the gifts and privileges I have to serve our people and to never be complacent.”
JEWISHcolorado Shinshinim know that their friends in Israel are serving in the IDF even as they stood in Denver and spoke. “As Israelis, we all live by the saying, ‘I don’t have another country, no matter what,’” said Adaya Koren. “We owe all we have to those heroes and their families that lost their whole world in an instant.”
“The pain, the missing piece in your life, the empty room in the house that is never going to be filled again, the face that exists only in memory, that is what makes Yom HaZikaron hard,” said Omer Dian.
Community rabbis, local Israelis, and HEA clergy honored the fallen with ties to the Colorado Jewish community by reading their names. The oldest to die was 89 years old. The youngest was 14 years old.
The Colorado Hebrew Chorale sang “Bab el Wad” followed by a moment of silence.
“You who will walk here, on the path that we trod. Never forget us—we are Bab el Wad.”
Yizkor, “El Maleh Rachamim,” and Kaddish.
JEWISHcolorado Young Adult Division Manager Felice Oltuski made Aliyah after graduating from college and enlisted in the IDF. She had been inspired by the story of Michael Levin z”l. On Yom HaZikaron 2018, Oltuski asked her commander if she could be stationed as guard at the grave of Michael. When she arrived, she found a crowd of people—people crying, laughing, and telling stories.
“I quickly realized that we were not guarding Michael, Michael was guarding us,” Oltuski said. “Michael’s embodiment of Zionism inspires hundreds of American Jews to enlist every year. We take this day to stand with the Israeli people and our fallen soldiers who courageously risked their lives to defend our right to a Jewish homeland—no matter what.”
Elisa Mindlin, the sister of Michael Levin z”l, shared her family’s story with words and video—the story of a kind and caring teenage Michael who fell in love with Israel and would let no hurdle stop him from making Aliyah to serve. He was home on leave visiting family in 2006 when the Second Lebanon War broke out. He returned to Israel and fell on August 1, 2006, in battle. According to his wishes, he was buried at Har Herzl in Jerusalem.
“Michael’s courageous spirit is the embodiment of the Hatikvah,” Mindlin said. “Michael’s eyes were filled with light and were always looking East towards Jerusalem. He never gave up on his dreams and he always made sure to keep his hope burning bright.”
As the sounds of Hatikvah faded, families gathered to share Yom HaZikaron with a new generation.
When Sara Warmbrand saw photographer Kathryn Scott taking pictures, she took her by the arm. “Come with me, I want to show you my brother,” she said. “He was only 20 years old.”
Sara Warmbrand with Rabbi Gruenwald and Rabbi Shulman.
L’dor V’dor—Yom HaZikaron is a day to remember, to mourn, and to hold family close.