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January 13, 2015

Israelis Gather to Bury Victims of Terror in France, Killed Because They Were Jews

(ADL Israel Staff attended the funerals of the four French Jews earlier today in Jerusalem. Below is a personal account from Phyllis Gerably and Carole Nuriel of ADL’s Israel Office)

Today, making the way to the Har HaMenuchot (Mount of the Resting) cemetery, there were flags and signs put up by the Jerusalem Municipality embracing the French. The Israel National Police and security were in place in preparation of the expected large crowds, and the participation of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Opposition head Isaac Herzog, rabbis, ministers, ambassadors and the French Minister of Environment Ségolène Royal, representing the French government.

An impressive crowd of thousands came out on a cold sunny day to pay final respects to four people they never met, who were tragically killed simply because they were Jewish. The crowd brought together, in a feeling of common destiny, family, friends, members of the French community in Israel and native Israelis. At the entrance to the cemetery a small crowd of French Jews held signs saying, “I am Charlie; I am a Jew; I am an Israeli; I am French; We’ve had Enough.”  ADL Condolence France

In his moving eulogy for the four victims, President Rivlin put it eloquently: “This is not how we wanted to welcome you to Israel. This is not how we wanted you to arrive in the Land of Israel, this is not how we wanted to see you come home, to the State of Israel, and to Jerusalem, its capital. We wanted you alive, we wanted for you, life.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about Israel being the safe haven for the Jewish people, and that the threat against the Jewish people is, in fact, a threat against all of humanity. Opposition Head Yitzhak Herzog spoke of his great-grandfather who was the rabbi of Paris one hundred years ago, and recognized the roots and strength of the Jewish community in France.

The victims’ families each spoke about their loved ones and how they yearned to be in Israel. Their dignity and love for Israel was very moving. Looking out at the crowd of mourners – Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews joined in sorrow by this horrific act – was a quiet reminder to all of us that we are responsible for one another, no matter where we are.

French Minister of EnvironmentRoyal spoke about threats to Jews being a threat to all the French people, and that France without its Jewish community just isn’t France.  Minister Royal also said that combating anti-Semitism and racism is going to be the number one priority for France in 2015. When she announced that the four murdered Jews were going to receive the French Legion of Honour medal, a few in the crowd broke out in applause.

It was very hard to avoid the feeling that this message was too little, too late.

The funeral ended with the singing of Israel’s national anthem, HaTikva, of which the words “We did not lose our hope” (“Od lo avda Tikvateinu”) had, this time, the additional meaning that while a tragic event had occurred, Israelis have hope for a better future for all.


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August 7, 2014

Reflecting on Israeli Society During the Conflict: The Best and the Worst

With Israel scaling down its operations in Gaza and a ceasefire beginning to hold, Israeli society will now reflect on the last four weeks. Out of this frightening and tense period, one source of inspiration and optimism has been the sense of solidarity and closeness felt by Israelis.

Across the country, people of every age and political affiliation clamored to help and “do something.” Israelis mobilized to show support for the IDF soldiers serving on the front – people sent food, care packages, supplies – even washed uniforms.  Others offered to host residents of the south who left their homes for fear of the unending fall of rockets and blare of warning sirens. Thousands went to funerals and shivas for the fallen soldiers – particularly those of the “lone” soldiers – whose families live outside Israel. Mass prayer vigils were held.

Funeral of IDF Soldier Max Steinberg

Funeral of IDF Soldier Max Steinberg

But while we can celebrate in this widespread feeling of unity and generosity, we cannot deny that other, troubling tendencies also emerged over these past weeks.

Some who publicly disagreed with Israel’s military operation were called “traitors” and in some cases, even “Nazis.” Some protesting the conflict were physically attacked. Tensions with Israeli Arabs have grown. Many were outraged by reports of some groups of Israeli Arabs who celebrated in the killing of IDF soldiers. This hostility intensified in both speech and action, and there were reports of isolated vigilante attacks on Israeli Arab targets. Indeed, when an East Jerusalem Palestinian attacked a Jerusalem city bus with a construction vehicle, killing one, out of concern for their physical safety of Arabs in the vicinity, police quickly moved to ensure their safety.

As we begin to think about “the day after,” Israelis must think about how to harness the positive while reducing the negative. We must figure out how to build on the sense of unity and generosity while still valuing the exchange of different viewpoints, and ensuring that respectful discourse thrives.

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July 23, 2014

More Reflections from Israelis:  Mourning two American-Israeli soldiers 


Overflow at the July 23, 2014 funeral of Sgt. Max Steinberg

Overflow at the funeral of Sgt. Max Steinberg

16 Days into Protective Edge operation, the list of fallen soldiers grows longer and longer. In the last 48 hours, two names of so-called “lone soldiers” whose families live outside of Israel were added to the list: two young Americans who moved to Israel and served in the IDF – Sgt. Sean Carmeli, who grew up in South Padre, Texas, and Sgt. Max Steinberg, from Los Angeles.

On Monday afternoon, when the funeral of Sgt. Sean Carmeli was announced, there was fear that not that many people would attend as he does not have immediate family Israel.  The Maccabi Haifa soccer team, of which Sgt. Carmeli was a fan, called on the public to pay their respects to the lone soldier.    Participation went far beyond all expectations: around 20,000 people from all over Israel came together to pay their respects.

And, today, the people of Israel embraced the family of the lone soldier from L.A, Sgt. Max Steinberg. As a Jewish-American organization, ADL Israel staff felt the need to attend the funeral and pay our respects to this young American-Jew who came to Israel and fought in his combat unit shoulder to shoulder with his Israeli friends.   On an extremely hot day, tens of thousands flocked to the cemetery  – estimates runs between 30,000-40,000 people – the vast majority of whom did not know Sgt. Steinberg.

The funeral started with the almost surreal announcement by the Home Front Command instructing attendees what to do in case a siren went off during the funeral. Even during this emotional and tragic moment, this reminder served to reinforce the fragile nature of the current Israeli reality.

The eulogies delivered at the funeral brought to life Max’s character and the strong connection he felt for the State of Israel and the IDF. His insistence on serving in the Golani combat unit, and doing so with excellence in the various courses during the training process, reflect his special commitment and strength.

As Israelis, we felt that joining the impressive attendance at the funeral was our way of expressing our sorrow at the loss and our deepest gratitude for an individual who was willing to sacrifice his life in a just war, in order to protect our lives. Many brought Israeli flags and waved them proudly. Max’s emotional father ended his remarks with a prayer for peace, and a stirring: ” Am Israel Chai” – the people of Israel live.

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