Nearly 1,000 people crowded into Beth Jacob congregation on April 19 for a program co-sponsored by five Orthodox congregations and hosted by Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, an Orthodox Zionist youth group.
Run mostly by the teens who lead Bnei Akiva, the program combined prayers, song and speeches, first for Remembrance Day and then for Independence Day.
Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Jacob Dayan addressed the group, drawing repeated rounds of applause as he paid tribute to Israel as the “insurance policy of the Jewish people.”
Racheli Sharabi, a 19-year-old Israeli, showed a video and spoke of her brother, Gil Sharabi, who was killed in a 1997 helicopter crash that took the lives of 73 Israeli soldiers. Racheli, along with three peers, is spending this year at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills as her sherut leumi, two years of national service. Her tale of grief at losing her favorite brother — she had four older brothers and Gil was the only one happy to share his room when she was born — touched students and families who have grown close to Racheli over the year. Twelve sherut leumi women are currently serving in schools in Los Angeles.
The crowd stood for a prolonged ovation when the emcee introduced Aaron Karov, a lieutenant in the IDF who was severely injured in a booby-trapped home in Gaza in 2009, where he was deployed just 12 hours after he was married. While doctors gave him little hope of survival, he fought his way through reconstructive surgery and out of a wheelchair. Both he and his father, Rabbi Levi Karov, spoke.
The sounding of the shofar and prayers of Thanksgiving marked the transition to Independence Day celebrations, with a video of Los Angeles students currently studying in Israel, a raffle for a trip to Israel, and dancing and food.