From Darkness to Light: Israel’s Journey of Remembrance and Resilience


Every year on Israel’s Memorial Day, national sirens sound heralding a moment of silence to honor the Israelis who lost their lives in wars past and present, or from acts of terror. Israelis stop what they are doing wherever they are, and even stop their cars on highways.

VIDEO: Yom HaZikaron: Moment of Silence Throughout Israel

In the first official day of remembrance since the October 7 attack, Israelis mourned the lives of those lost in Israel’s wars and terrorist attacks. The day after, Israelis immediately transitioned to a celebration of Israel’s 76th anniversary. This year’s transition was much more difficult.

Dozens of hostages are still being held by Hamas – causing more than seven months of agony and heartbreak to their loved ones and the nation. Tens of thousands of residents on the border of Gaza and Lebanon are displaced. Memorial Day also was a painful reminder of the trauma suffered by those in the Gaza border communities.

Iran-backed Hamas terrorists were still firing rockets into Israel from Gaza and Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists also were launching barrages of rockets on northern Israel – on Independence Day. The Iranian threat to the Jewish state’s very existence and the agony of the continuing war weigh heavily on everyone’s hearts.

Israelis Mourn Oct. 7 Victims

This year, Israel mourns the 25,040 soldiers who died during military service and the 5,100 killed in terrorist attacks in the Land of Israel dating back to the mid-1800s. Since last year, 766 soldiers and 834 civilians were added to the list. The number of fatalities in the past year represent a staggering percentage of the 30,140 who are remembered on Memorial Day.

The head of the Department of Commemoration and Heritage Families Aryeh Moalem remarked that the number of troops killed in the past year is the equivalent of 15-years of deaths: “Unfortunately, we have conducted many funerals – in some places under rocket fire and fear of terrorist infiltration – with the clear goal of bringing the fallen to their final resting place with respect.”

Faces of Zionism: Torch Lighters Highlight 10/7 Heroism

For Israel’s Independence Day, the Israeli government holds official ceremonies, including a torch-lighting ceremony in Jerusalem that honors individuals who have made significant contributions to Israeli society. This year’s 12 participants were chosen for acts of heroism displayed during the Hamas onslaught against Israel.

Each torch was lit by one or more individuals representing different groups that displayed courage under fire. This includes security personnel, first responders and pro-Israel advocates. The local security team torch lighters included Inbal Liberman, who directed the members of her kibbutz’s security team to ambush incoming terrorists; Barak Shalom, who led the fight against Hamas terrorists; and Tal Levit, whose house in northern Israel was directly hit by a rocket from Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists, but has remained to protect his town.

Another torch will be lit by Arab IDF veteran and influencer Yoseph Haddad. He spoke about his selection: “This is a profound honor and a testament to the strength of our nation’s spirit. I see this as an opportunity to showcase the unity and shared values that define Israeli society. My mission is to show the world the true face of Israeli society – a society grounded in peace, morality and compassion.”

Unfortunately, threats by Arabs against Druze hero Nasreen Youssef and her family forced Nasreen to withdraw from the ceremony. The Druze are a non-Jewish minority with a distinguished history of service to Israel. Nasreen saved lives by deceiving two captured Hamas terrorists to obtain information to protect her Gaza-border community. “This is our country, and we will continue to protect it regardless of whether we light a torch,” she stated. “What I did was out of a desire to help.”

Holidays Closely Linked to National Identity

From grief to joy, the Jewish state uniquely pairs Memorial Day and Independence Day together (May 13 and 14 this year) because the two events are closely linked in the country’s history and national identity. Memorial Day commemorates the sacrifices of soldiers and civilians who died defending Israel. Independence Day celebrates the establishment of the State of Israel – its sovereignty after 2,500 years of Jewish statelessness following the fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah – commemorating the country’s achievements while looking forward to the future.

As Israel’s population nears 10 million, Israelis acknowledge the deep sense of loss and grief that accompanies the celebration of independence – underscoring the idea that freedom and national sovereignty come at a high price.

1. There is only one Jewish country

Israel serves as a beacon of hope and resilience for Jewish communities worldwide. It is home to sacred Jewish sites, including Jerusalem’s Western Wall – the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples – that embodies embodying the collective aspirations of the Jewish people for self-determination. The rebirth of Israel fulfilled this long-held dream of a Jewish homeland, offering a vibrant center for Jewish life and culture and providing refuge for Jews fleeing persecution. As the only Jewish country, but also a home to Arabs, Druze and Christians, Israel plays a crucial role in preserving Jewish heritage, fostering connections among Jews around the world and serving as a vibrant hub of innovation, culture and democratic values in the Middle East.

2. Israel has never known a year of peace

Since Jews regained sovereignty in 1948, Israel has been in a state of war. Several Arab armies immediately attacked after Israeli leaders declared independence. Additional attempts to annihilate the Jews included the 1967 Six Day War and 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel’s enemies – Egypt, Jordan and Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization – launched a series of attacks between these wars, known as the War of Attrition. Israel made peace with Egypt and  Jordan, as well as several other Arab nations as part of the Abraham Accords. Israelis have tried numerous times to peacefully coexist with the Palestinians. Current threats against Israel include Iran and its proxies – Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis. Terrorist attacks and threats to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ have forced Israelis into a permanent war of attrition.

3. Attempts to vilify Israel mirror isolation of Jews in ghettos and attacks in pogroms

The Jewish people have endured thousands of years of discrimination and persecution – including forced segregation into ghettos and violent attacks – driven by anti-Jewish hatred. Now, an international campaign echoes historical patterns of discrimination and hostility. The portrayal of Israel’s existence as illegitimate, the erasure of the Jewish people’s ancestral connection to the Land of Israel and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement are attempts to isolate Israel and vilify its supporters. Not only do boycotts target the Jewish state, they also contribute to the stigmatization and marginalization of the Jewish people. This is notably seen today on university campuses where many Jews are increasingly afraid to voice their support for Israel and to openly display their Jewish identity because of fears of mistreatment.

4. Denials and distortions about Israel undermine history

Attempts to deny or distort Israel’s historical and cultural significance disregard millennia of Jewish presence in the region and the legitimate aspirations of the Jewish people. Israel’s history is deeply intertwined with the narratives of countless individuals and communities who have called the land home for generations. Denying Israel’s right to exist undermines the complex tapestry of history, culture and identity woven into its fabric. Acknowledging historical truths paves the way for constructive dialogue and peaceful coexistence.

Use these Talking Points to provide a realistic view of Israel

Use these talking points in conversations with family, friends and acquaintances to counter the false narrative that Israel is a colonial, apartheid and warmongering nation. Israel is a religiously and culturally diverse country. In Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, you will walk down the street passing Orthodox Jews in black suits and hats alongside hipsters in t-shirts and young professionals in shorts and sandals. Here are a few resources that provide an overview of Memorial and Independence Days:

You might hear: There were no Jews in Israel until 1948.

REALITY: Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 was the culmination of a long-fought desire to ‘return home’ for many Jews. The Jewish people have deep, ancient roots in the Land of Israel tracing back thousands of years. Archaeological findings and historical records affirm the enduring presence of Jews in the region long before the re-establishment of Jewish independence in 1948. From Biblical times to the Kingdom of Israel to the State of Israel, Jews always have maintained a presence. Many Jews were forced to live in exile, but Jewish communities around the world maintained a strong connection to the land through cultural, religious and historical ties. The notion that Jews arrived in Israel only in 1948 overlooks this rich history, discounting centuries of heritage and resilience integral to the identity of the Jewish people.

You might hear: Israel is an ethnostate that should not exist.

REALITY: Israel is a complex nation with a diverse population comprised of different ethnicities, religions and cultures. While Israel was established as a homeland for the Jewish people, the country is a democratic state that grants equal rights to all its citizens, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. While debates continue over the government’s policies – even by Israelis – the assertion that Israel should not exist disregards the legitimate aspirations of the Jewish people for self-determination. There are more than 150 Christian countries, about 50 Islamic countries – including the Islamic Republic of Iran, five Buddhist countries, two Hindu countries and the only Jewish country. Only one is forced to defend its legitimacy – Israel.

Soldiers Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice: ‘The privilege to protect Israel’

Israeli combat soldiers write letters to their families before heading into battle. Rabbi Elkana Vizel was a 35-year-old father of four and teacher who died in Gaza in January. Ben Zussman was a 22-year-old native of Jerusalem who fell in battle in December. Their words are excerpted from their letters to their loved ones:

IDF Sgt.-Maj. (res.) Rabbi Elkana Vizel:

If I was kidnapped, I demand that no deal be made for the release of any terrorist to release me. Our overwhelming victory is more important than anything, so please continue to work with all your might so that the victory is as overwhelming as possible.

When a soldier falls in battle, it is sad, but I ask you to be happy. Touch hearts, hold each other’s hands, and strengthen each other. We have so much to be proud and happy about.

We are writing the most significant moments in the history of our nation and the entire world. So please, be happy, be optimistic, keep choosing life all the time. Spread love, light and optimism.

IDF Sgt.-Maj. (res.) Ben Zussman:

I’m happy and grateful for the privilege to protect our beautiful land and the people of Israel. I’m not permitting you to sink into sadness. I had the benefit to fulfill my dream and my purpose and you can be sure that I’m watching you and smiling a huge smile. I will probably sit next to grandpa.

I’m not prepared for terrorists to be released in exchange for me in any way, shape, or form. Please don’t violate this. I’m full of pride and a sense of mission and I’ve always said that if I have to die, I hope it will be in defense of others and the country. Jerusalem, I have entrusted guards; one day I’ll be one of them.

UN Members Overwhelmingly Upgrade Palestinian Status: ‘A prize for Hamas’

The United Nations General Assembly recently voted to allow Palestine to become a full UN member in an unprecedented move. Israel’s foreign minister called the result a “prize for Hamas.” UN membership is open to “peace-loving states” – the opposite of Hamas-controlled Gaza. Israel’s ambassador to the UN held up a sign before the vote of a Hamas leader: “President Sinwar, the terror state of Hamas, sponsored by the UN.”

The vote awards new rights and privileges: full participation in UN and international conferences and meetings; the right of delegation members to be elected as officers in certain UN committees; and seating among member states in alphabetical order. However, for Palestine to become a full member, the resolution must be approved by the UN Security Council. The U.S. is expected to veto such a move. The Palestinians have been a non-member observer state since 2012.

The vote passed with 143 countries in favor, 9 opposed and 25 abstentions. The countries voting against this recognition were Israel, the U.S., Czechia, Hungary, Argentina and four Pacific island nations. Canada, Germany and Ukraine were among the nations to abstain; 16 other countries did not vote.

UN Significantly Lowers Estimate of Children Killed in Gaza: ‘Accuracy is not a UN goal’

In recent data published by the United Nations, the number of children and women killed in the conflict dropped by 50%. A UN official blamed the “fog of war.” The UN primarily relies upon data from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry – even Hamas previously admitted that its numbers were wrong. These numbers are very important because they drive public opinion and are the basis for war crimes allegations.

UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer: “When it comes to Israel, it’s clear that the UN’s goal is not accuracy, because it wants to portray Israel as malevolent. The right thing for the UN to do now would be to admit that their casualty count is a complete failure – there is no standard of proof. All the UN does is parrot figures supplied by Hamas, which is laundered and legitimized by the UN. It’s leaders have essentially admitted to feeding the media and the world completely false numbers.”

IDF Launches Surgical Strikes in Rafah as Biden Limits Assistance from U.S.

The Israeli Defense Forces began launching limited air strikes and sending ground troops into the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Split in half by Gaza’s border with Egypt, the Palestinian city is the last major foothold for Iranian-backed Hamas terrorists in Gaza. The remaining Israeli hostages are believed to be held in the tunnel labyrinth snaking beneath it.

After repeated calls for civilian evacuations, the IDF entered Rafah on May 6. The Israeli military called, texted and dropped flyers to 100,000 Palestinians in eastern Rafah advising they evacuate. This came only days after Hamas fired mortars from Rafah towards a Gaza-Israeli border crossing where humanitarian aid enters Gaza. The salvo killed four Israeli soldiers. Days later, Hamas launched 14 rockets at a large southern Israeli city proving the importance of striking Rafah to prevent future Hamas attacks.

President Biden announced that his administration would withhold certain weapons to Israel if the IDF begins a significant ground operation in Rafah. Biden also stated that he would provide key intelligence to Israel in return for holding back.

His actions were criticized, most notably by those within his own party. U.S. Sen. John Fetterman: “This decision demonstrates to Hamas that they’re winning the PR war.” U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres: “I suspect it’s pandering to the far left. I’d like the president to do right by Israel and recognize that the far left is not representative of the rest of the country.”

Graduation Ceremonies End Tumultuous Year: ‘Students not learning how to think’

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld delivered the commencement speech at Duke Univ. where about 30 students out of a total of 7,000 interrupted him with anti-Israel chants. After they walked out of the graduation ceremony, “the entire stadium started booing them and eventually started chanting Jerry’s name.”

Graduation disruptions swept across the country, including at Columbia, Virginia Commonwealth Univ., the Univ. of North Carolina, the Univ. of Texas, the Univ. of Wisconsin, the Univ. of Arizona and the Univ. of California at Berkeley.

Graduating George Washington Univ. student Sabrina Soffer summed up the climate on university campuses: “Students are not learning how to think, but they’re learning about what to think. There’s no real academic rigor that surrounds learning how to think.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Propaganda is not education. Anybody who is teaching in a university should be held responsible for what they include and what they exclude. We have to do a better job with young people in trying to help them understand how to filter and interpret the information they’re getting. We also need to do a better job in our classrooms, particularly at the college or university level.”

The Combat Antisemitism Movement and Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy recently held a briefing on Qatari funding of anti-Israel hatred at universities: Follow the Money: An Examination of Qatar’s Funding of Higher Education and its Influence.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton meets with families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas, in NY, Dec. 21, 2023. (Photo: Hostages and Missing Families Forum)

Israeli Singer Surprises at Eurovision Despite Boycott Efforts: ‘Prohibition of performing while Jewish’

Israeli singer Eden Golan was forced to hide in her Swedish hotel room between performances at the annual Eurovision Song Contest. She also had to be escorted to the arena by dozens of police cars and withstood blistering criticism from her fellow competitors. The event could be a preview to how the Jewish state, Israelis and Jews will be treated at this summer’s Paris Olympics.

Eden’s song “Hurricane” was a tribute to Oct. 7. Lyrics included: “Everyday I’m losing my mind,” “Baby, promise you’ll hold me again” and “I’m still broken from this hurricane.” The Israeli singer stated: “I am here to show the voice of an entire nation, to show that we’re here, that we are strong, but emotional and broken.” Eurovision rejected Israel’s first two songs because of lyrics linked directly to the 10/7 attack. Organizers considered this “political.”

Her participation was targeted by anti-Israel activists who called on the event organizers and participants to boycott Israel. These calls were rejected. However, U.S. and UK bars cancelled watch parties. U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres slammed the decision by a NY bar for the “boycott of Eden Golan – the prohibition of performing while Jewish.”

Eden was targeted by her fellow contestants and booed by the crowed during her performances and rehearsals. She posted a video of herself dancing with last year’s Swedish winner. The Swede “disavowed” the video. Ireland’s singer cried after learning the Israeli qualified for the final. During a TV rehearsal, a presenter substituted Ireland for Israel, refusing to refer to the Jewish state by name.

Notably, Israel finished first or second in public voting in a number of countries that are known for their anti-Israel governments, including Spain and Ireland. This may indicate that a large number of Europe’s public supports the Jewish state. Israel received little support from the juries, but placed first in 15 countries – more than any other nation. The Eurovision winner is determined by votes from a professional jury and public voting in each country, both weighted at 50%.

Israel finished fifth, having won four times in its 50-year history of competing. Israeli transgender singer Dana International won the contest in 1998.

The number of votes Israel received from each country at this year’s Eurovision.

Paris Holocaust Memorial Vandalized: ‘Unspeakable’

A French Wall of the Righteous memorial honoring 3,900 non-Jews who risked their lives to help rescue Jews during the Holocaust (Shoah) was vandalized with red-painted hands. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo: “No cause can justify such degradations that dirty the memory of the victims of the Shoah and of the Righteous who saved Jews at risk to their lives.”

An act of vandalism was discovered on a French Holocaust memorial on the morning of May 14. (Paris Mayor’s Office)

This content is developed by The Focus Project in partnership with Mercaz USA. The Focus Project distributes weekly news and talking points on timely issues concerning Israel and the Jewish people, including antisemitism, anti-Zionism and the delegitimization of Israel. It represents a consensus view across a spectrum of major American Jewish organizations. Mercaz USA recognizes and respects the diversity of views on these issues among its readers and the community at large.

The Focus Project develops and distributes news, background, history and weekly talking points on timely issues to inform individuals and organizations about issues affecting the American Jewish community and Israel, and help readers speak with more consistency and clarity. The editions also provide potential responses for addressing incidents of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. With input from a spectrum of major American Jewish organizations, we focus on that which unites us, rising above political and individual agendas.
Recognizing that hatred of Jews comes in many forms and directions, we strive to address all sources as they arise, and educate our growing audience on topics ranging from inter-religious relations to relevant international developments. From week to week, we may focus on issues arising from the political left, university campuses, from the political right and from institutions, government, and corporations. We don’t try to address all issues in each edition. We hope you will find this information useful in your writing and/or speaking. We are always open to your feedback: