In less than two hours, Hillel Yeshiva High School students experienced the abrupt shift between the somber mood of Yom Hazikaron and the festive celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut.
More than 200 students gathered on April 26 in the Seymour Shalom Student Activities Lounge for a program commemorating both Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and the country’s 64 years of independence.
Long Branch residents Gerald and Aimee Ostrov of the Strategic Communications Center, a New York-based Israel advocacy organization, addressed the student body, telling the young people how they themselves can stand up for Israel.
“We want to give students a perspective of what other people think about Israel, the good and the bad, and how to deal with it,” Gerald told NJJN before taking the podium. “Anti-Israel propaganda drives the public toward confusion and apathy. The more Jewish students are prepared, the more effective they will be in their advocacy.”
Strategic Communications Center aims to educate the general public about the positive accomplishments and human face of Israel. Its target audience in the United States is largely members of the Asian, Hispanic, and African-American communities. Through an extensive social media campaign, the organization has the capability of reaching more than four million people within 10 minutes, Gerald said.
Rabbi Howard Bald, head of the high school, addressed the audience before students lowered the Israeli flag to half-mast in memory of the soldiers killed in defense of Israel. Miriam Harary, chair of the school’s Hebrew department, showed a film about Roi Klein, a major in the Israel Defense Forces who died in the 2006 Lebanon War after jumping on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers.
“Because the State of Israel exists, we have a proud sense of belonging, whether we live in America, South America, Europe, or Australia,” Bald said. “This little country the size of New Jersey gives us the sense that at any time we can pack our bags and go to Israel. As long as we have freedom and security, Jews have a lot to contribute to the world.”
Shifting from somber to joyous during a single ceremony was emotionally challenging, said senior Mitchell Parker of Oakhurst. “But that’s the reality of Israel every day. They mourn those who lost their lives, while they celebrate the survival of the nation. It really helps us appreciate that Israel is our land and our home,” he said.
“Each year presents yet another trial for Israel, and it always stands the test of time,” said junior David Cohen of Ocean. “Israel represents how people can overcome adversity. This celebration is possible through their sacrifices.”