JERUSALEM (JTA) – Eva Sandler, whose husband and two young sons were killed in the Toulouse shooting, lit a memorial flame at a ceremony in Jerusalem honoring the victims of anti-Semitic attacks worldwide.
"When enemies attack a Jewish center in Buenos Aires or a Jewish school in Toulouse, it is also our war," Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, said during the ceremony Wednesday in the Jewish Agency’s courtyard, among the memorials held in communities and military cemeteries throughout Israel in observance of Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day, the country’s official Memorial Day. "It is our job to remember each and every one of the victims."
Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and sons Gabriel and Arieh were gunned down last month outside the Ozar Hatorah school. The young daughter of the school’s principal also was killed by Mohammed Merah, who told police before he was killed at the end of a daylong siege at his apartment that he murdered them to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children in Gaza.
Memorial Day began with a two-minute siren heard across Israel at 11 a.m. The services culminate with a torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl at 8 p.m. to usher in Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Israel Independence Day.
In a message to the Diaspora for Independence Day that was released Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked "the tens of millions of friends of Israel throughout the world for their unwavering support for the one and only Jewish state."
"This passionate support, along with Israel’s strong army, free economy and dynamic society, is the pillar of our national strength," he said.
Netanyahu also spoke at the national memorial service at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning.
A one-minute siren on Tuesday night that ushered in Memorial Day was followed by the national ceremony held at the Western Wall and televised to the nation.
"Your beloved ones had a crucial part in the achievements of the state," Israeli President Shimon Peres told the bereaved families at the ceremony. "We shall forever remain indebted to your children. No act or gesture on our part can relieve your pain and the memories that will not vanish."
According to official figures, the total number of fallen security personnel and terror victims from 1860 to 2012 stands at 22,993, with 126 killed since last Remembrance Day. There are 10,524 bereaved families of security personnel, 2,396 orphans and 4,992 widows of the Israeli military and the defense establishment.
At a ceremony earlier in the day at the Yad Lebanim memorial, Netanyahu told the bereaved parents and political and religious figures on hand, "It was the heartfelt duty of our dear ones that led them to face the enemy. It is the duty of our conscience that leads us to stand with eyes closed and not only remember but look toward the future as well. Today, the people of Israel lay aside disagreements and stand as one beside you. Today we remember the fallen of Israel’s wars, all of our dear ones. Each one had a family. Every name has a life’s story of its own; an entire world has been cut short."
Netanyahu’s brother Yonatan was killed in the Israeli military’s July 1976 mission to rescue hostages at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
"As a member of a bereaved family, Remembrance Day is very significant for me," the prime minister said. "It is not only a national day of remembrance, it is also a private day of remembrance for me and my family, as it is for all of you."
Also Tuesday, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics announced that Israel’s population stands at 7.88 million. There were 806,000 residents of Israel when it was established in 1948.
Three-quarters of the population, or 5.93 million people, is Jewish. The 1.62 million Arabs in Israel comprise 20 percent of the population.