AACI Memorial Program
Israel is unique in many ways. But perhaps the most unusual aspect of Israeli society is its attitude to those who were killed in its numerous wars or as a result of a terrorist attack.
Israel is the only country in the world which begins its annual Independence Day celebrations with a Memorial Day, commemorating those who gave their lives in defense of the State.
Although the sharp transit from a day of mourning to a day of joyful activities is extremely jarring to visitors and even many citizens, the vast majority of bereaved families find it an appropriate recognition of the supreme sacrifice made by their loved ones to establish and maintain the State of Israel.
In 1967 the AACI – Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel - decided to establish a Memorial Forest
to honor those North Americans and other members of the Association from English-speaking countries and their immediate families who died serving in the Israel Defense Forces or its predecessors or as victims of terror. In 1983 the first 30 names were unveiled on the AACI Memorial Wall.
The AACI Memorial Site is located on a hill above the Sha'ar HaGai junction, on the main road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The forest - which was established after the Six Day War in conjunction with the Jewish National Fund – provides a background to the Memorial Wall and combines with it to evoke a feeling of peacefulness and - with its natural beauty - make it a place of remembrance and reflection.
The earliest names on the Memorial Wall are from the 1920's – North Americans who died at Tel Chai – and from the 1930's – immigrants from the U.S. and Canada who were murdered in the pre-State Yishuv. There are many from the War of Independence, including William Bernstein, chief mate of the ship Exodus, who was killed during its capture by British troops, and "Mickey" Marcus, an American who came to help found the Israel Army and who died when he couldn't respond in Hebrew to a sentry's challenge. Amram and Yochanan Ben-Chorin are listed on the plaque – brothers who both fell on the first day of the Six Day War. There are many others who died in the Yom Kippur War and in the 1982 War in Lebanon. Sadly, there are many newer names - civilians killed by snipers, by suicide bombers on buses, in a Jerusalem pizzeria, at a Passover seder at a hotel in Netanya, and at a Hebrew University cafeteria. An emergency room doctor, David Applebaum, and his daughter, Naava, were killed as they ate dinner together in a coffee shop on the night before her wedding. Yonadav Hirshfeld and Avraham Moses were killed when a terrorist entered the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva and began firing indiscriminately at the students. Finally, there are the names of those killed fighting terrorists on Israel’s borders.
Remembering these more than 300 people is an obligation that the AACI has taken upon itself on behalf of the English-speaking community in Israel. Every year a Memorial Service is held at the site with the participation of bereaved families. Unfortunately, almost every year additional names are added to the Memorial Wall. The moving ceremony is also attended by scores of youth from the various movements who bring students from abroad, as well as by representatives of the American and the Canadian embassies in Israel.
The AACI believes that the moving stories of those who died in the line of duty will resonate with young people to inspire the next generation of leadership - who will, in turn, keep alive and remember the narratives of the Canadians and Americans who made the supreme sacrifice so that they will never be forgotten.
The proposed program - developed by leading educators and implemented by a coordinator training youth facilitators to work with each organization – will be aimed at English-speaking young adults in Israel on educational or volunteer programs, as well as local youth movements. It will concentrate on the personal stories of the individual fallen on listed on our Memorial Wall and give the background of the specific period or war in which they fell. In addition, we will develop a website to serve as an educational tool that memorializes and accompanies the program. We are seeking donors to pursue this project.