As a bereaved father read the Yizkor prayer and the Israeli flag was returned to full mast, Memorial Day segued into Independence Day. This year, 1,500 speakers and performers took part in the annual event.
The ceremony was attended by an audience of 6,500, almost twice as many as in past years.
The ceremony opened with a rendition of Danny Robas’s “Names and Faces” by singer Sarit Hadad. The song was accompanied by a display of the names and faces of all 23,546 soldiers that have died in service to Israel from 1948 to the present.
Israel’s 1979 Eurovision winning song, “Hallelujah” was performed simultaneously at the event and 20 other locations around the globe, including a new verse by Shimrit Or.
Torches were lit by 12 prominent members of Israeli society, to symbolize the Twelve Tribes of Israel, a theme prominent in the performance as well.
This year, Culture Minister Miri Regev chose to have the ceremony honor Israel’s culture of innovation. The 12 torches were lit by individuals who exemplify this culture of innovation.
First to light his torch was Avshalom Kor, the well-known linguist and radio personality.
Afterward, Druse spiritual leader in Israel Shaykh Mowafaq Tarif was invited to light his torch. He was followed by Prof. Marcelle Machlouf, the medical researcher.
The next torch lighters were former IAF pilot and Paralympic athlete Noam Gershoni and Racheli Ganot, a haredi hi-tech trailblazer who advocates for ultra-Orthodox women’s incorporation in the workforce.
Then Margalit Zinati from the village of Peki’in lit her torch. The Zinati family has lived in Peke’in since the days of the Second Temple, and Margalit is currently the only Jew remaining in the historic village.
Other torch lighters included Ambassador Ruth Kahanoff, actress Leah Koenig and actor Ze’ev Revach, singer Shlomo Artzi, and Aviezri Fraenkel.
The lead up to this year’s ceremony was touched with controversy as Culture Minister Miri Regev wanted there to be addressed by the president, prime minister, Knesset speaker and a foreign leader, in honor of Israel’s 70th year, while Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein sought to maintain the traditional, nonpolitical format in which only the Knesset speaker makes remarks.
Historically, the Knesset speaker is the top official present at the ceremony, with neither the prime minister nor the president in attendance.
Edelstein spoke first at the ceremony, focusing on the melting pot of Israeli culture, saying, “Variety is the source of our power and complexity is our growth engine.”
In a speech rich with metaphors, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of the Menorah as a symbol of the “revival and rebirth” of the Jewish nation.
“In the year 70, the Menorah’s light went out,” he said.
“But today, in Israel’s 70th year since independence, the menorah is the symbol of our nation and its light is stronger than ever... Even today some seek to extinguish the menorah, to extinguish the light that erupts from Zion. I assure you, it will not happen. It will not happen because our light will always overcome their darkness.”
Tamar Ben-Ozer contributed to this report.