As more than 1,500 people gathered at Adat Ari El in Valley Village to commemorate Yom HaZikaron (Israel's Memorial Day) in an April 24 ceremony hosted by the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, neither an empty seat nor a dry eye was to be found.
The holiday is taken very seriously in Israel, where sirens sound and the country literally shuts down for two minutes as citizens solemnly remember the state's fallen heroes. According to the Ministry of Defense's latest report, 19,312 have lost their lives defending Israel since the State was establishment in May 1948.
Here in Los Angeles, "the connection is not an easy one," noted Zvi Vapni, deputy consul general of Israel, whose father, Moshe Vapni, died during the Six-Day War. "An extra special effort must be made to carry out a similar atmosphere as the one we have in Israel."
Thirty-two local families have lost loved ones in Israel's defense. The names of each were read, and their pictures with yahrtzeit candles were poignantly exhibited in the synagogue's lobby.
"I have been to many services, and they are all beautiful, but this one was exceptional," said Esti Duenyas, a field representative for the State of Israel Bonds in Los Angeles.
Gila Almagor, Israel's first lady of theater, read selections of poetry at the ceremony, and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, in a brief statement, reminded the predominantly Israeli audience that the heroic soldiers fought and died not only in defense of Israel but on behalf of the entire Jewish people.
Statements were also made by Jewish Federation President John Fishel and Consul General of Israel Yuval Rotem, who asserted that the pervasive feeling in Israel of "a dream gone sour" may instead be turned into an opportunity.
"[Rather than] divide and weaken us, Arafat has instead united and reinforced us," Rotem said.
As Yom HaZikaron ended, Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) commenced. However, Israelis balance tragedy and triumph, noting that the two holidays come together as one package.
"This relationship between sadness and happiness being intertwined is at the very core of the Israeli existence," Vapni said.