Remembrance Day in Israel is extremely solemn because the deaths remembered are very close to home.
But the day is slightly different for immigrants. Sometimes we feel a little like outsiders, peeking in, trying to show our appreciation and sadness despite not being as closely connected as those who have lived here longer.
The Final Offspring project is a very meaningful way to connect to the day. It is run by My Israel and it is definitely one of the more touching initiatives I’ve come across.
The project is focused on Holocaust survivors who came to Israel after having lost everyone, or almost everyone. Many of them fought in the War of Independence, and those who were killed in that war, left behind no one to mourn them.
Israel’s official remembrance website lists around 150 of these people who have no one to visit their graves on Yom Hazikaron.
As part of the project, people choose a few names from the list and go visit them in honour of Remembrance Day.
This year was the second time I participated and it is very touching and highly recommended.
How to be part of the project
- If your Hebrew isn’t very good, find a partner to do this with who can help with all the Hebrew.
- Go to this list of names organized according to cemetery.
- Choose names of people you are going to visit. Best to choose a few people in the same cemetery.
- Find their names in this list.
- Email the list of names to email@example.com so they can keep track of who was visited as part of the project.
- These things I take as optional: Print this card once for each person and write a note on each one for that person; buy a flower for each person.
- It’s a good idea to read about each person beforehand or print up the text and read it at the cemetery. Here is an example of text available about one of the people I visited.
- Write down where each person is buried in the cemetery. Here is an example.
- Visit the graves of the people you chose. You might say a prayer, read about them, put stones, flowers… Whatever you like.
What it’s like participating
This year was the second time I took part in this project. My partner for these kinds of things is often my mother, and so it was.
Last year we learned that a lot of the Holocaust survivors buried on Mount Herzl are in the mass grave (more positively called a “kever achim” – a grave of brothers – in Hebrew) from the massacre in Kfar Etzion in Gush Etzion. This year, I purposely chose four people from that grave, including one who I recall from last year.
We went on the Friday before Yom Hazikaron. This time it was easy to find the grave since it was already familiar to us.
There is a certain, intense and anticipatory feel in Israel’s official military cemetery on the eve of Yom Hazikaron. The place is looking beautiful, each grave has a stool next to it for visitors, a flag with a black “remember” ribbon, a lantern for a remembrance candle and, on Yom Hazikaron itself, every single grave stone also has a bouquet of flowers.
It is touching to see with what sensitivity the day is approached. It feels right to be there, with all the groups walking around, the tour guides telling stories about the fallen.
The Holocaust survivors, fallen soldiers we visited this year
All four of the soldiers we visited are buried on Mount Herzl, Israel’s national military cemetery, in a mass grave from the Kfar Etzion battle. Sitting by their mass grave, imagining their lives a little, reading their stories… This is a good way to spend the eve of Yom Hazikaron.
Here is a tiny bit about each of the people we visited. Click on the links to read the complete text available for each of them.
Akiva (Kort) Levy (עקיבא (קורט) לוי) (read his story in Hebrew here)
Born in Germany in 1925. Went from camp to camp during the war, his family’s sole survivor. Participated in Torah V’Avoda training post-war in Italy. Came to Israel and ended up in Kfar Etzion where he fought and was killed at the age of 23.
Dov (Berish), Lish (Levinbroin) (דוב (בעריש) ליש לוינברוין) (read his story in Hebrew here)
Born in Poland in 1925. His father was a shochet (slaughterer according to Jewish law) and a hazan (cantor). His parents were killed and he was sent to the Częstochowa forced-labor camp. He went from camp to camp and was liberated from Buchenwald. After the war in Belgium he joined a religious pioneers (chalutzim) movement where he studied and trained for the Hagana. He decided to move to Israel via Egypt in 1946 and upon arrival in Israel, he continued training. He was manning the gate to the Kfar Etzion settlement when it was attacked in 1948. He was 23 when he died.
Shoshana Lenchner Tanenboim (שושנה לנצ’נר טננבוים) (read her story in Hebrew here)
Born 1923 in Poland in a village with a small Jewish community. She was a member of the Shomer Hadati movement from a young age. She was sent to the ghetto with her family and was the only one to survive. Even in the camps she continued being active in the Shomer Hadati. She was an active leader after the Holocaust as part of Zionist movements, helping Jews make it to Israel. In 1947 she married the man she was destined to be with for only four months before she moved to Israel, leaving him to serve in his position in Europe.
During the difficult time in Gush Etzion, she wrote in a letter:
We should be proud that we are living in this critical period… I hear a voice inside of me saying: Revenge for those who have fallen, we do not want to feel shame and we will continue to plant that they have started…
Shoshana was 24 when she was killed in a bunker in Kfar Etzion along with around 100 others.
Rachel Mins (רחל מינס) (read her story in Hebrew here)
Rachel was born in Lithuania in 1918. In 1941 the country was captured by the Germans and immediately Jews became hunted and many were killed.
In 1945, after the war, she joined a Jewish community in Poland where she joined the religious youth movement Bnei Akiva and started considering moving to Israel. After some more time in Europe where she got into teaching in Hebrew schools, she joined the Bricha movement where around 250,000 Holocaust survivors began their attempts to get to Israel.
On her way to Israel, a storm wrecked the ship which sank. Most survived but Rachel ended up first imprisoned in Cyprus for a few months and then in Israel by the British for a couple of weeks.
Rachel was 30 when she was killed in Gush Etzion.