Last Thursday evening saw the inauguration of the largest indoor stadium in the Middle East. Located near the Jerusalem Manhat (Malcha) neighbourhood, the inauguration ceremony was attended by a large number of soldiers as well as many Jerusalemites. The stadium was dedicated to the memory of the soldiers who served as well as those who fell in the recent Operation Protective Edge.
The inauguration was organized by the LIBI Fund, the official fund of the IDF.
Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, dedicated the evening to soldiers who served in Operation Protective Edge, and made special mention of those who were wounded and killed in action. An extra special mention was made to the eleven soldiers who are buried on Mt. Herzl. Many soldiers who saw active service in Operation Protective Edge were in attendance.
Mayor Barkat told Breaking Israel News, “The well-being of lone soldiers in Jerusalem is a significant priority for me personally and for the Jerusalem Municipality. The work carried out by the LIBI Fund in both the realms of education and absorbing new immigrants is of critical importance to the city of Jerusalem and the State of Israel.”
Barkat, himself a Major (res.) in the IDF, served in the First Lebanon War and was wounded while leading his paratrooper battalion into combat. LIBI Fund chairman Maj. – Gen. (res.) Yoram Yair, who fought alongside Barkat in Lebanon, had a special surprise for two of the soldiers who were in attendance of the evening. LIBI flew in the parents of two lone soldiers, one from the United States and the other from France.
Joey Cassel, the American lone soldier, was told earlier in the day that although he was on leave from base for the weekend, his presence was mandatory at the event. He arrived with a friend and sat amongst the many soldiers who were instructed by their units to be at the event, which commenced with the hanging of a mezuzah by IDF Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz. The ceremony was followed by speeches and a concert featuring some of the hottest performers in the Israeli music scene.
During the performance of famous Israeli singer Dudu Aharon, Aharon stopped the concert for a bit with an announcement of a raffle run by LIBI for the soldiers. He pulled two names out of a drum and called Cassel as well as another soldier hailing from France to the stage, whereupon they were presented with small gift boxes. While the gifts were being presented, the parents and family members of the two lone soldiers walked out onto stage and greeted their children and siblings.
Cassel told Breaking Israel News that it was his first experience with LIBI first hand and that he is very grateful to the organization for bringing his mother to Israel so that he could spend time with her. He also said that he is looking forward to future interactions with LIBI and is very appreciative for all the work that they do for the army.
Cassel’s mother stayed for almost a week, and he received special permission from his commanders,who were also in attendance at the opening, to take leave from his duties for the duration of her visit.
“My family is not one for secrets and is not one to pull these things off,” said Cassel, reflecting on his being surprised at the event. “I found out later that my whole unit knew about it as well, but as circumstance would have it I was on a different base last week so they couldn’t let it slip. It was a huge surprise, I didn’t expect it at all,” said the Columbus, Ohio native.
The evening continued with other concerts and ceremonies, but the joyful reunion of the two lone soldiers with their parents and families was definitely the highlight of the event, and met with huge amounts of applause.
Reflecting on watching the reunion between lone soldiers and their families, Barkat said, “I personally witnessed the reunion of a mother from America who surprised her son, a lone soldier who fought in Operation Protective Edge this summer. This moving reunion was facilitated by the LIBI Fund and is just one example of the important work they do from day to day, ensuring that the needs of the IDF’s lone soldiers are met.”
Yair said that he is not surprised that Barkat chose to dedicate the opening ceremony to the soldiers. A spokesman for LIBI told Breaking Israel News, “LIBI continues to work hard to provide assistance to all the soldiers of the IDF, but has a special place in their heart for lone soldiers and the sacrifice that they make to defend Israel.”