Former U.S. Ambassador’s Remarks at AACI Memorial Ceremony

Good afternoon.  I would like to begin by thanking Donna Grushka and Rabbi Jay Karzen, and the National Memorial Committee of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel for organizing this very significant and important ceremony.  I feel privileged to be invited again this year to say a few words.  Thank you all for your tireless and dedicated work in helping us remember Americans, Canadians, AACI members along with  members of their families who gave their lives for Israel, either as soldiers or victims of terror.

Standing here today, we are reminded what a bittersweet vista this memorial represents.  Set in a restful forest overlooking the foothills surrounding Jerusalem, it provides a scene, which is at once pastoral and at the same time, also evocative of battles and hand-to-hand fighting, marking critical episodes in the establishment of the State of Israel.  It is humbling to stand here beneath trees whose roots delve deep into Israel’s past, enabling the branches to reach up towards the sky.  This delicate balance between life and death, is far too great of a reality in Israel’s day to day existence.  And so it bears repeating once again that the United States stands, more than ever, by Israel’s side as a friend and ally, deeply committed to its security and independence.

We remember today not Netta Blatt-Soreg and Asher and Yonatan Palmer, but all North Americans, Canadians and AACI members lost in wars and acts of terror since before the establishment of the State of Israel.  Saplings planted here so long ago, now so robust and life affirming, serve as a reminder of this remarkable, resilient country in which I am honored to serve as United States Ambassador.  In my term of duty in Israel I have travelled the length and breadth of this country. I have visited schools and synagogues damaged by rocket fire and sat by hospital beds with victims of senseless terror.  My intent is to comfort, but I always come away from these meetings fortified and emboldened by the bravery, determination and resolve of the Israeli people.

The more than 300 North Americans and Canadians whose memory we honor here today join ranks with tens of thousands who have died for Israel.  Israel’s history has been full of trials and tribulations. Last year, when I heard Natan Alterman’s poem read out from this sanctified ground, recalling words attributed to Chaim Weizmann soon after the UN decision to partition Palestine: “The State will not be given to the Jewish people on a silver platter.”

No part of Israel’s statehood was won without sacrifice.  The enduring and unshakeable bond between the United States and Israel rests on America’s deep understanding of the sacrifices Israel has made to gain and uphold its independence.  The United States shares the goals of a secure, safe, Jewish, democratic State of Israel, at peace with its neighbors, a country in which all its citizens are free from the threat of war or terrorist attacks. This is a reciprocal relationship. Israel is a valued strategic asset to the United States. The special connection between our countries is based on common strategic interests, shared values and the moral bonds of the people of two democracies, reinforced every day by close people-to-people encounters.

Every single life lost to violence sends shock waves through the entire society.  Many of you here have lost loved ones, spouses, siblings, friends, parents, grandparents … children.  On behalf of the Unites States government and the American people, I stand with you today to honor those lost.  The United States and Israel both place the highest value on human life and dignity, and as history has shown, will go to great lengths to ensure that the memory of our fallen is honored.

Hearing the moving remarks about the 11 Israeli Olympic athletes killed at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games and recalling that one of them, David Berger, was an American immigrant, struck me today with fresh force.  As a parent, it reminded me that for North Americans who have made aliyah, the decision to raise   your children here, exposing them to the dangers of defending this country and confronting terrorism, is a significant one, and demonstrates the deep conviction and determination they hold to make Israel not only a secure state, but also one that thrives and promises opportunity.

Even if you haven’t made aliyah, you can still imagine this weighty decision, and have tremendous respect for those who have made it.  Last month, I spoke to Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman.  As many of you know, this year at the London Olympics, Aly won a gold medal in gymnastics with her brilliant performance to the tune of Hava Nagila, and she inspired us all when she dedicated her win to the Israeli athletes murdered in Munich in 1972.  Even at a young age, Aly understands that it’s important we remember the great sacrifices that have been made, and the lives that have been lost, just because they were Israeli.

After tragedies, we often say “never forget,” but time goes on, and life is busy.  And when witnesses and loved ones die, and memories fade, the challenge to remember, and in turn, to really understand, becomes more difficult.  Too often we forget.  This is why I salute the efforts of the Americans and Canadians in Israel in memorializing fallen friends and countrymen with such appropriate respect and honor.  The strength of AACI’s dedication and the importance of its role within Israeli society is evident from the special group of people gathered here today for this ceremony.  It is gratifying to see contingents of college youth from Israel and abroad many of whom are from North America.  You are the torch-bearers of the shared values that Israel and the United States hold dear. You are an embodiment of our joint vision for the future.

I am proud to be part of special group gathered here to give honor to the dead whose names will be remembered forever.   I will close with the words from the mourner’s Kaddish, in which we praise God and pray for peace that will prevent other families from mourning such losses:

עַוּשֶה שָׁלוֹם בְּרַחֲמָיו

 הוּא יַעֲשֶה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ

וְעַל כָּל יִשְרָאֵל וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן

יהי זכרם ברוך