Herzog and Gila Gutman Azulay lighting a torch to commemorate the victims
Herzog and Gila Gutman Azulay lighting a torch to commemorate the victimsThe Jewish Agency for Israel

The Jewish Agency for Israel’s annual Yom Hazikaron ceremony held on Wednesday morning honored a tragic event in Jewish history, as well as fallen soldiers, terror victims and those who were injured or killed in antisemitic attacks.

In 1961, during a secret mission intended to bring Jewish Moroccan immigrants to Israel, the Egoz ship sank, resulting in the loss of 44 people.

Among those on board the ship were 43 immigrants, half of whom were children, in addition to Mossad operative Haim Tzarfati z”l. Authorities were able to locate 22 bodies, which were then buried in a Jewish cemetery, but the rest were lost at sea. In 1992, the bodies were moved to Jerusalem’s Mt. Herzl where they were given a ceremonial burial.

“Our hearts are heavy with grief for every man, woman and child who died simply because they dared to be part of the miracle that is Israel. Today, we unite behind, and honor their individual stories. We especially remember those tales of hardship and sacrifice in order to become Israeli,” said Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Isaac Herzog. “In that vein, we pay tribute to the victims of the Egoz ship and Haim Tzarfati. They set sail from Morocco on a stormy winter night 60 years ago and never reached their destination. 44 people lost at sea – children, women, men - Jews whose only desire was to start a new life in the Land of Israel. The ship sank but did not drown the longing for Zion.”

Chairman Herzog and Gila Gutman Azulay - who lost the majority of her family on the ship - both lit a torch to commemorate the victims and the men and women who died defending Israel.

“The tragedy of the drowning of the Egoz ship is a national and a personal tragedy. At home in Casablanca I was always given the feeling that life in Morocco was temporary. We all longed for the Land of Israel, it was our soul’s desire,” Azulay remarked. “My sister Penny and I joined a local underground organized group of children set to immigrate to Israel, and were told that the rest of our families would join us later. We did not say goodbye to my mother and my siblings. I couldn’t have imagined that we’d never see them again. A few days later, my mother and five brothers and sisters perished in the disaster.”

The memorial event was organized by The Jewish Agency, with the participation of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), the Jewish National Fund (JNF), Keren Hayesod, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Jewish Federations of Canada (JFC).

As the ceremony also commemorated those who perished in terror and antisemetic attacks, a memorial wall of all the victims from around the world was unveiled. According to data from The Jewish Agency, since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, 200 Jews were killed in antisemitic incidents and terror attacks worldwide.

“Our demand from every state and government is clear and unequivocal: the Jewish citizens living in your country are equal citizens. It is your responsibility to keep them safe,” said World Zionist Organization Chairman Yaakov Hagoel. “The World Zionist Organization is committed to battling antisemitism around the world, and will stand its ground as one of the leaders in the fight against this horrid phenomenon. We embrace Jewish families from around the world for the precious loss and the endless dedication they have given us as a country."

Rebecca Caspi, JFNA Senior Vice President of Global Operations & Director General in Israel, also delivered remarks and gave thanks to the sacrifice of IDF soldiers.

“The Jewish community in North America joins its Israeli brothers and sisters and bows its head in memory of the fallen. In addition, the Jewish-American community salutes the IDF soldiers and the Israeli security services who guard the State of Israel and Jews around the world - today, and every day,” she said.

Keren Hayesod World Chairman Sam Grundwerg also expressed his gratitude to the Israeli men and women in uniform: “The Jewish communities and supporters of Keren Hayesod, our partners around the world who contribute to Israel's security, including some who send their children to enlist as lone soldiers in the IDF, stand by Israel, remember the fallen today and grieve in pain together with the bereaved families.”

Also speaking at the event were JNF Chairman Avraham Duvdevani; JFC Director General Arie Levy; The Jewish Agency’s CEO and Director General Amira Ahronoviz and Chair of The Jewish Agency Workers' Committee, Hanan Mor.

“It is our duty to build, develop and live on our land while protecting its borders from enemies. On a day like this, we remember the finest of our sons and daughters who fell in battle for the land, the vision and the promise of a home for the Jewish people,” said Duvdevani. “I grieve for the families and friends of the fallen. Each life lost leaves behind an entire world that gathers the pieces and tries, in memory of the fallen, to move forward and honor their greatest sacrifice to us. In their death they commanded us to live.”