Ghetto Fighters' Museum, Kibbutz Lochamei Haghetaot--A couple of Israeli Air Force jets scream through the sky over this kibbutz on Israel's northern coastal road between Akko and Nahariya as the ceremony marking the end of Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day draws to a close.
It must be quite a sight from up there--ten thousand people filling every space in the amphitheatre of the Ghetto Fighters' House, standing to attention for Israel's national anthem, Hatikva--The Hope. Dozens of Israeli flags fluttering in the warm breeze of an early spring evening; six large flames flickering against a backdrop of scores of smaller flames held by Navy officer recruits, clad in their formal all-white uniforms.
What the pilots can't see is the central figure on the stage. The diminutive Zevik Lavi, one of their own, the first pilot in Israel's Air Force back in the 1940s. Lavi, in civilian clothes, stands to attention next to two of his grandchildren in army uniform. An actor has just read the story of Zevik's life in the ghetto, escape from a Nazi transport train, years spent with the partisans and his eventual arrival in Palestine.
The theme of this year's Ghetto Fighters House gathering is "Eretz Israel--First Encounters," and Zevik's triumphant story is part of the moving event.
Unlike the more somber, formal ceremony of remembrance that took place at Yad Vashem the night before in the presence of President Katzav and Prime Minister Olmert and a slew of officials and politicians, the Ghetto Fighters' Museum strives to look to the future and encompass as many youth as possible. The audience at Yad vashem is filled mainly with survivors and their families. At Ghetto Fighters' Museum, more than eighty percent of the participants are blue-shirted teenagers representing the plethora of youth movements active in the country.
The white-uniformed Naval cadets marching onto the stage bearing torches frame the brief Yizkor ceremony as well as the energetic dancers of the Kibbutz Dance Company who evoke the slave labor camps with their movements.
When the moment comes to light the six flames of remembrance, Amy and Richard Miller mount the stage together with the other Israelis. The Millers have traveled from New York with their friends and fellow Jewish activists Jeff and Hilary Markowitz to take part in the Yom Hashoah event. Amy is the president of the American Friends of the Ghetto Fighters' Museum responsible for raising funds for many of the new projects aimed at Holocaust education in Israel.
Several of the flames are lit by survivors and their children or grandchildren. As they light, their stories are told and we see photos of their lives during the Shoah on the massive screen behind them. The emphasis is on the incredible tales of how they made their way to Palestine in the 1940s.
Kibbutz Lochamei Haghetaot was established in 1949 by the young veterans of the partisans and survivors of the Nazi death camps who wanted to continue their lives together. Tonight, some of those pioneers along with their next two generations, read poetry, sing nostalgic Yiddish songs and speak about their experiences. It's both a commemoration of the unfathomable lost legacy of those who perished as well as an affirmation of the present and future of a strong people who have endured and continue to endure baseless hatred.