Hundreds packed the sanctuary of Cong. Keter Torah in Teaneck last Tuesday to mark Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers – and also to remember those who died in terror attacks – and then to usher in Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the Jewish state’s independence day.

Some 800 adults as well as at least 200 children attended the event, co-sponsored by Congs. Rinat Yisrael, Keter Torah, Bnai Yeshurun, Beth Aaron, Young Israel, Zichron Mordechai, Netivot Shalom, Shaare Tefillah, Shaarei Orah, Arzei Darom, and Ahavat Shalom in Teaneck and Beth Abraham and Ohr Ha Torah in Bergenfield.

Ambassador Daniel Carmon, Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, recounted to the crowd the history of his father, a Romanian Jew who came to British-mandated Palestine in 1941, when he was 15 years old.

“When my father arrived in Eretz Israel, he joined the youth movement Aliyat No’ar and lived in Kibbutz Afikim,” Carmon said.

As World War II raged, Carmon’s father lost contact with his family. His anxiety about loved ones left behind in Europe soon turned into an attempt to bring them to safety. He became a candidate to join a group of Jewish paratroopers to be sent into Eastern Europe, behind enemy lines. He was not selected in the lottery for the mission, but another paratrooper in his group was chosen for the doomed sortie – a girl named Hannah Senesh, who would make history as a martyr.

Carmon believes that by losing the lottery, his father saved his own life. Then Carmon went on to tell his own story from when he was posted at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.

“With happy anticipation, my wife, Eliora, and our four children joined me,” he said, noting that their fifth child would later be born in Buenos Aires. “Yet, nothing prepared us for the dark day of March 17, 1992.”

That afternoon, a car bomb detonated in front of the embassy, killing nine people inside and 29 outside. More than 100 were wounded.

“I have no real recollection of what happened,” Carmon said. “The last thing I do remember is talking with two colleagues. The next thing I knew, I was covered with blood and shrapnel, lying on the floor of a car, unable to see, being evacuated from the scene to the nearest hospital.”

While in the hospital, Carmon learned that his wife had been killed in the attack. Several days later, still under heavy doses of pain medication, he was reunited with his children, ages 2 to 12, and had to tell them of their mother’s fate.

image
Organizers Carmi Abramowitz, left, and Zvi Sebrow, both of Teaneck, flank Ambassador Daniel Carmon, deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

“Like many other Israelis who experienced loss, my family had to make a choice,” Carmon said. “We were either going to let grief consume our lives, or we would move forward and find a way to emerge from the ashes and rebuild our lives as individuals, and as a family. We chose life.”

Carmon was followed by a procession of young flag-bearers. Three students, Yosef Sklar of Keter Torah, and Lauren Tuck and Micayla Rosenbaum of Beth Aaron, read aloud the names of Jewish victims of terror who had been murdered in the past 12 months. This year’s list included names from the massacre at the Chabad house in Mumbai, India.

Rabbi Yosef Adler of Rinat Yisrael and rosh yeshiva of Teaneck’s Torah Academy of Bergen County led El Maleh Rachamim. The millennia-old passage is used at funerals and certain Jewish observances as an appeal for mercy on the souls of the departed.

Organizer Zvi Sebrow, who arranges for the list of terror victims each year, said it’s harder to get the names of fallen soldiers from official Israeli army sources than those of victims of terror. Teaneck houses a chapter of the One Family Fund, an Israel-based organization that helps the families of terror victims, which provides names for the annual commemoration. The organization had set up a kiosk at the ceremony, giving away brochures and bracelets engraved with the names of terror victims.

“Thank goodness this year we only received 32 names,” said Sebrow, who recalled previous years with larger numbers.

The somber portion of the event came to a close with the sounding of a shofar and the singing of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva. The doors of the sanctuary were opened and the crowds converged on a festive party room decorated with blue and white balloons and lined with refreshment tables.

On hand for the celebration was Israel’s Deputy Consul General Benjamin Krasna, who has been living in Teaneck with his wife Sharon and their children for four years. Sharon Krasna said that she has come to appreciate the distinctions between being part of an active Jewish community in the diaspora and being part of the fabric of Israel as a citizen.

“There’s definitely a difference in the way the holiday is celebrated here,” she told The Jewish Standard. “Here it’s like you’re going through the looking glass. Israel is more of a dream or an ideal for Jews who live here. In Israel it’s … your country, it’s your identity.”

A group of fifth-graders from the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge celebrated by dancing and helping to consume the 100 pounds of blue/white cookies on hand.

Ariella Wiederkehr, 10, said she knows that Jews have paid the ultimate price for keeping their traditions through the generations. She is the great-granddaughter of a Czechoslovakian Holocaust survivor named Ica Deutsch Spandel, who had written about her wartime experience of hiding in the forest in her book “Buying Time.”

“It’s so sad they went through this, yet today there are bombs,” Ariella said. “We have to make the soldiers of Israel happier by sending them cards to let them know they’re [appreciated].”