The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia strongly condemns hate speech in our community and throughout the world. When anti-Semitic hate speech was expressed by Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill, we immediately took action with national and local partners. We have and will continue to condemn comments that reject the state of Israel and the Jewish connection to our homeland.

Each year on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, our Greater Philadelphia communities come together, along with our global Jewish community, to commemorate Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Honoring each and every life sacrificed for the establishment and safeguarding of Israel, we offer special recognition to the so-called “lone soldiers” who serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) without family nearby to support them. Around 6,000 lone soldiers currently guard Israel’s borders, about 45% of whom hail from international communities, accepting the additional burden of serving far from home. This means forgoing amenities large and small: a parent’s washing machine, care packages, a table to gather around for the holidays and home-cooked Shabbat dinners. These highly motivated soldiers, who arrive not just to defend Israel but to dedicate themselves to the country, and sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice.

Perhaps the most famous fallen lone soldier was our local hero, Staff Sgt. Michael Levin. Born in Bucks County, Michael was undaunted by the challenges of immigrating to Israel on his own. Through unwavering dedication, he not only made aliyah but quickly ascended into the ranks of the IDF’s elite 890th Paratrooper Battalion. In July 2006, after three years of soldiering, Michael was on leave to visit his family in the U.S. when he heard his unit had been deployed to Lebanon following the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Rather than sit safely on the sidelines while his unit protected Israel, he cut short his Philadelphia visit to return to battle. Michael was tragically killed in the Hezbollah stronghold of Ayta al Shab.

Though many lone soldiers have given their lives throughout Israel’s history, Michael was the only American lost during the Second Lebanon War. When Michael’s parents arrived at Mount Herzl for his funeral, they were amazed to find thousands of mourners waiting to honor their fallen son. Many knew and loved Michael; others were overcome by the story of the young Philadelphian who devoted his life to the State of Israel. At the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, that tradition continues: Each of our travel opportunities to Israel pays a visit to Michael’s gravesite. On Yom HaZikaron, and every day, we carry Michael in our hearts.

To honor the lone soldiers and Israelis who dedicated their lives to Israel, join us at Har Zion Temple on Tuesday, April 17th at 7:30 p.m. for our Yom HaZikaron ceremony, hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Israeli American Council and the Consulate General of Israel in New York. To find out more about the ceremony, as well as the many events and engagement opportunities we have planned for Israel70, our year of honoring and celebrating Israel, click here.