On May 10th, at the Machal Memorial in the Judean Hills, as part of a somber and nostalgic Yom Hazikaron service, U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro gave a great speech. The event included talks from Smoky Simon (South Africa), Chairman, World Machal, Zipporah Porath (United States), and Rabbi Judith Edelman-Green, who shared an emotional and inspirational sermon. Ambassador Shapiro, who earlier in the day also attended a service at Har Hatayasim (Air Force Memorial), visited the Machal memorial, addressed the crowd, and laid a wreath. We are honored to share his moving thoughts on the day.
“The Sorrow and the Glory, the Bitter and the Sweet”
Dan Shapiro, Ambassador of the United States of America
From my years here as a student, and the past five years serving as U.S. Ambassador, the uniquely Israeli Memorial Day-Independence Day combination has left its mark.
With so much to celebrate – 68 years of the Jewish State, free and strong – Israelis first take the time to mourn their losses and contemplate the price of that freedom.
Today, I will also experience the bitter and the sweet. As the siren sounds, I will join the Israel Air Force, representing the United States at the memorial ceremony at Har Hatayasim. There, the loved ones of pilots downed in wars that took place decades ago, and those who fell in more recent battles, all fighting for Israel’s security and freedom, will sit and mourn together, enveloped by the embrace of their Air Force family. Attending this event is a sobering honor, which I consider one of my most sacred duties – to join our Israeli allies in their time of mourning.
Later in the day, I plan to drive to another hillside memorial not far away.
In a small wooded park at Sha’ar Hagai stands the MACHAL (Mitnadvei Chutz L’Aretz) memorial, where over a hundred fighters – all foreign volunteers, who fell in Israel’s War of Independence – are honored for their bravery and dedication.
MACHAL soldiers arrived from nations far and wide. The largest number who fell, 30, came from the United States, out of more than 800 Americans who volunteered.
As I join Israelis reflecting on the thousands who fell in defense of this country and its values – including so many victims of terrorism – and on my own country’s unshakeable alliance with Israel, I feel drawn to this place to reflect further on our common battles, which have produced shared losses and shared victories.
The memorial sits where “sorrow and glory live together” as Haim Guri wrote in his iconic poem, Bab el-Wad. And the MACHAL fighters themselves, like these two so different days, represent the sorrow and the glory, the bitter and the sweet.
Serving with distinction in all branches of the young Israel Defense Forces, and especially in the Air Force, they played an instrumental role in the re-born Israel’s survival at precisely the moment when its fate hung in the balance. The stones of this memorial speak to us of the high price they paid in doing so.
But the flourishing country that exists today tells us of the deep commitment to the safety and security of the Jewish state they shared with the comrades they fought beside, which together they bequeathed to subsequent generations and which has enabled Israel to thrive.
One can draw a straight line from Colonel David “Mickey” Marcus, who fell in the War of Independence in 1948 and is buried at the US military cemetery at West Point, and Lou Lenart, “The Man who Saved Tel Aviv” in that same war, and who we lost this past year, to Sergeant Max Steinberg who fell in Operation Tzuk Eitan (Protective Edge) in 2014 and is buried among the heroes of the IDF on Har Herzl in Jerusalem.
These are American and Israeli heroes.
Just as Israelis experience the sorrow of Memorial Day and the glory of Independence Day, may the families of the fallen MACHAL soldiers and their fellow citizens, while remembering the bitterness of their loss, take comfort in the sweetness of the knowledge that their lives and their service have strengthened this country and also the bond between America and Israel. Their legacies are a reminder that individual lives and personal resolve from the core of what has become an unprecedented and intricate alliance between nations.
The Memorial Day and Independence Day, as I reflect on the legendary contributions of MACHAL, I do so with the firm knowledge that our common values remain our most effective weapon in our struggles against enemies near and far, and our greatest strength in building the societies we can proudly pass on to future generations.
Today we grieve. Tomorrow we celebrate.