Elchanan Glatt, Director-General of the Bnei Akiva Yeshivot movement, explained beforehand that the event was to be primarily a salute to the youth, "to show them thanks and recognize the strengths they displayed throughout this difficult period."
Glatt explained the three parts of the event: "First, expression of the tremendous pain of the terrible expulsion and destruction. Second, admiration and thanks to the youth, in many ways, chiefly by bringing them to the stage, emphasizing their faith and their actions that gave strength to the adults. And third, a view to the future, which our youth will shape."
Among the sponsoring organizations were school networks such as Tzviya and Amit, as well as rabbinical and settlement organizations. The original plan was for the Disengagement Authority to finance part of the costs, but this was changed due to public pressure. Limor Har-Melekh, the young widow of terrorist victim Shuli Har-Melekh who was murdered two years ago, explained to Arutz-7 on Tuesday,
"I too said I was not willing to take part in an event sponsored by the Prime Minister's Office [under which the Disengagement Authority operates]. The organizers understood that if they want the youth to take part, they have to call off that partnership."
Controversy was not avoided, however, on two other fronts. Though Rabbi Yigal Kaminetzky - the rabbi of Gush Katif - as well as Rabbi Chaim Druckman, Rabbi Moti Elon and Rabbi Elisha Vishlitzky took part, some felt that the more "activist" rabbinical approach was not sufficiently represented. Limor Har-Melekh said afterwards, "I heard that Rabbis Avraham Shapira and Dov Lior were invited, but they were not there." Blessings from Rabbi Shapira and Rabbi Eliyahu were read aloud.
"I'm among those," said Ms. Har-Melekh, "who did not like the embracing of soldiers and policeman [during and immediately after the expulsion], nore all this talk of how much we love the IDF. In the little talk that I was asked to give last night, I emphasized the youth's active struggle, and their refusal to accept what was going on, and the anti-Diaspora approach they displayed. I felt that this was not sufficiently emphasized by the others."
"The terrible events that we underwent in Gush Katif and northern Shomron have led to a major attempt to clarify our stands," Limor said, "and this is underway among our youth as well. There are those who are more mamlakhti [supportive of the holiness of the State], while there are those, like myself, who are less so. But it would be a mistake for those who are involved in education to try to shut out the side that doesn't agree with them; both sides have to be heard."
Asked to elaborate on her position, Limor said,
"For instance, I believe there must be a clear differentiation regarding those in the army who took part in the expulsion, and those who didn't, and between the army of expulsion and the army that defends Israel. We can no longer blindly regard the army as something holy; we should realize that it is merely a means - an important means, of course, but not more than that...
"When people talk about the 'victory of the spirit,' I'm not sure what they mean; where's the victory in the fact that there are no Jews left in Gush Katif or northern Shomron? Where's the victory in the fact that Sharon just won another vote in the Likud for his policies?"
Films of the destruction were screened at last night's event, eliciting many tears in the audience. Speeches by rabbis, as well as MK Tzvi Hendel, David Hatuel, and other Gush Katif expellees were interspersed with recorded songs, poems and film clips shown on large video screens.
The atmosphere took on a different hue when Israeli rock star Meir Banai got up to perform. Though he is known for the traditional bent of some of his songs, the ambience thus created was a letdown for many in the audience. Rabbi Kaminetzky told INN-TV,
"This is one big mistake. I think that on the eve of Rosh HaShanah, after all that happened, this event should have been totally different. After the public was uplifted so high [in the course of the struggle for Gush Katif], I would have expected an event that would inspire and uplift everyone - an evening of teshuvah [repentance], of great challenge, of strengthening, of words of Torah, of spiritual song and dance - but unfortunately, that's not what this was."
Rabbi Druckman, one of the most veteran and highly-regarded rabbis of Religious Zionism, told the audience, "Our task at this time is to uplift the nation, and to correct the source of the problem - namely, the distancing from our Jewish roots. Precisely for this reason we are not disengaging from the State of Israel and from the IDF, but rather looking for the ways to repair, inspire and direct them along the correct path."
The three-hour ceremony concluded with a tribute to Jonathan Pollard. On the stage for the occasion were his wife Esther, a group of youngsters holding orange helium balloons, and a young former resident of the Gush Katif community of Gadid who read aloud Jonathan's framed Gush Katif Honorary Citizenship certificate. Mrs. Pollard then spoke, praising the youth and passing along a message from her husband to "please hang on to your keys, because we going to home to Gush Katif, G-d willing, sooner than anyone thinks!" The orange balloons were then released into the air, floating away in an orange cloud to conclude the moving event.