In one of her last community events before returning to live in Israel, Orit Kirschner shared memories of two soldiers who fell in defense of the country. At the combined Yom Hazikaron/Yom Ha’atzmaut commemoration at the YM-YWHA of Union County on Tuesday, April 16, the Israeli-born teacher lit LED candles for her cousin Udi Basel and for Ben Kubani, both of whom died in actions in Gaza, serving in the revered Golani Brigade.
Basel was killed by friendly fire in 2006, as Israeli soldiers sought to find and free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Kubani died in an anti-terrorist action in 2007. Both were just short of turning 21. The two families, Kirschner said, “adopted” each other, to help cope with their losses.
She said, “Both families were very touched when I told them I will present their stories. They asked me to thank you for keeping Udi’s and Ben’s memories alive.”
Sharing in the event, cohosted by the Y and Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, of which the Y is a beneficiary agency — was a group of 10th-grade students visiting from the community’s Partnership2Gether sister city of Ra’anana, where they attend MetroWest High School. “It’s been hard to be away from home,” Lielle Ziv said, “but it has also been great sharing all this with the people here.”
The program was designed by another Israeli, Greater MetroWest youth shliha Rozi Ben Ami, working with Y assistant executive director Jani Jonas. The event was funded, as it has been for many years now, with help from Sam and Gladys Halpern and Clara Kramer.
Ben Ami also said it was difficult being away from home over those days of sadness and celebration, but, she added, “sharing my love for Israel like this is what my shlihut is all about, so I’m glad I’m here.”
Honoring what has become a tradition, she included in the program a presentation by a large choir of boys and girls from the Jewish Educational Center Yeshiva in Elizabeth, under the guidance of music teacher Chana Salamon. Music was also provided by the Hebrew Experience Band, with members Oded Setter and Yoni Eliav freshly arrived from Israel. Kids danced around, adorned in the finery they had created in a crafts program, many with faces elaborately painted in blue and white, and some of the adults sported jewelry they had purchased from the “shuk” of vendors.
In a totally new feature, seven members of the community each announced an aspect of their love for Israel and lit a candle to celebrate its 65th birthday. Mark Staum started off by saying, “Israel is and will continue to be a miracle in every sense, despite and in spite of all the adversity it has faced.” Six-year-old Mia Bloomberg, whose father, Mark, is the Y’s immediate past president, went last. Barely able to reach the candle she lit, she announced in bold, clear tones, “What Israel means to me is home.”