Community Remembers Victims of Violence and Celebrates Israel's Independence


For over 30 years the flag of Israel - a blue, six-pointed star and two blue stripes on a white field - has been raised in Clifton in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut. Yom HaAtzmaut is Israel’s Independence Day, similar to the Fourth of July in the United States. It commemorates Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. This celebratory day is immediately preceded by a solemn one - Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers.

Elisa Leib, an attorney for the city, initiated the first flag-raising more than 30 years ago and was in charge of them for many years. Sadly, she passed away from cancer while still a relatively young woman. Resident and 2022 City Council candidate Steve Goldberg, who took up the responsibility for raising the flag and has been doing so as the lead organizer for over twenty years, said that “she was a positive woman who always lit up the room and uplifted people.”

Sunday’s event saw an impressive turnout with the courtroom in City Hall nearly full. Most of our City Council were in attendance, along with City Manager Nick Villano and several elected officials from neighboring towns and the county. The seats were filled with the old and the young, women, men, and lots of children.

Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut actually occurred last week and the flag-raising event at City Hall mimicked how those days are observed in Israel. The event began with a call to remember those lost in the fight for independence, to terrorism, and to the Holocaust. Goldberg spoke of his tradition of honoring a recent victim of anti-semitism at each flag raising and of the sorrowful awareness that he would likely never be at a loss for a name. This year, he dedicated the day to three victims - Lucy Dee and her daughters Maia, age 20, and Rina, age 15. All three were victims of a terrorist attack in the West Bank.

Following the somber opening was a celebration of Israel, with speakers frequently talking about the importance of having a safe home for Jews. Clifton Mayor Ray Grabowski offered words of affirmation and support for the “great State of Israel,” and even shared a well-received “mazel tov!” in recognition of Israel’s 75th year of independence. Neighboring Passaic’s Mayor Hector Lora also addressed the community. Lora commented, “As our communities have grown in diversity…unfortunately other things have also increased…bias incidents, anti-semitism…” He issued a strong rebuke to anyone who would send messages of hate or divisiveness.

Among the speakers this year were comedian Avi Fisher and Rabbi Mordechai Becher, who raised the flag following the indoor ceremony. Rabbi Becher is a Professor at Yeshiva University, a former soldier in the IDF, and author of the book, Gateway to Judaism. “We are free to choose who we are,” he said.

Israel continues to rank among the happiest countries in the world, Goldberg said. The World Happiness Report looks at healthy life expectancy, GDP per capita, social support, low corruption, generosity in a community where people look after each other, and freedom to make key life decisions. This year Israel ranked #4, just behind Finland, Denmark, and Iceland.

The person slated to sing both “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Hatikvah,” the national anthem of Israel, experienced a medical emergency near the beginning of the event. Another 2022 City Council candidate, Avraham Eisenman, was in attendance and jumped in to help. Eisenman is an emergency nurse practitioner and a volunteer with Hatzolah of Passaic/Clifton EMS. Hatzolah sent an ambulance and the patient was carried out on a gurney as the room filled with song. Lily D’Amato who, like Eisenman, was in attendance as a guest stepped in when Goldberg asked for a volunteer to lead the crowd in both national anthems. She led with a beautiful, clear voice and dozens more joined in, celebrating the freedoms enjoyed here in the United States and in Israel. The incident was a demonstration of the strength of the Jewish community and the ease with which people pull together to support the fallen and also rejoice as a community.

The city of Clifton supports many flag raisings each year and they are typically peaceful events, attended by the community being recognized and its friends and allies. This one, however, brought out a small group of protesters who came all the way from New York on this rainy day. Some called into question how they knew about the event and wondered if someone had specifically encouraged them to attend. Suspected as members of Neturei Karta, they stood outside facing City Hall but were not permitted indoors where the ceremony was being held. Once the crowd filed outside to raise the flag, City Manager Nick Villano stood protectively between the protesters and those who came to celebrate.

Standing in the rain as Rabbi Becher raised the small white and blue flag, attendees broke again into song, letting the words of “Hatikvah” drown out the protesters’ chants. In English:

As long as within our hearts
The Jewish soul sings,
As long as forward to the East
To Zion, looks the eye –
Our hope is not yet lost,
It is two thousand years old,
To be a free people in our land
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

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