Four Ethiopian pre-teen olim will be among 150 children to perform in this year's Yom Ha'Atzmaut - Independence Day eve torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
The children were brought to Israel along with their families only ten months ago by The Jewish Agency for Israel and are currently living at the Agency's Orly Absorption Center in Arad.
The somber ceremony is the closing event of Israel's Yom HaZikaron - the national Memorial Day, and the opening of the festive Yom Ha'Atzmaut ceremony. Fittingly, the torch-lighting ceremony takes place in a plaza opposite the grave of Theodor Herzl, who first envisioned a sovereign Jewish state in the modern era.
Yom HaZikaron honors soldiers, security, intelligence, and diplomatic personnel fallen in past and current conflicts, and Jewish civilian victims of terrorism in Israel and abroad.
This year, special mention was made of those who lost their lives during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. Children from south-west Israel, who were under rocket and mortar fire before and during the operation, will sing "Yamim Shel Sheket," a prayer for a future of quieter days.
Among those children are Yisaresh Ayalao, Alamitu Chakol, Laka Eros, and Gizat Malas—who were accompanied to Thursday's rehearsal for the ceremony by Orly David, an educator at the absorption center.
Center director Ravit Gibli-Cohen said that Orly David works day and night for the children. During Pillar of Defense, schools were closed for two weeks. During this time, Orly taught the children, and tried to make their days at the absorption center as much fun as possible.
The children said they were very excited to sing at the ceremony—"and to see important people." In Ethiopia, they did not attend school, and are enjoying learning to read and write in Amharic and Hebrew. When a South African Jewish Agency reporter explained that her Hebrew was not fluent because she, too was a new immigrant and asked if they were also from Africa, they answered, "No! We are not from Africa!" and added, proudly, "We are from Ethiopia!"
At the beginning of the rehearsal, the children shyly kept to themselves. As the day went on, however, they made friends, and started singing with more bravado.
At the end of the evening, together with all the performers at the ceremony, the soldiers present, The Speaker of Parliament Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein, and the audience, the children proudly and loudly sang HaTikvah, Israel's national anthem.
This Yom Ha'atzmaut will be the first of many that Yisaresh Ayalao, Alamitu Chakol, Laka Eros, and Gizat Malas will celebrate as Israeli citizens.
Activities at the Orly Absorption Center in Arad are geared to the various stages of the integration process, with an emphasis on providing tools to new immigrants for independent living in permanent housing and integrating immigrants into Israeli society. Children receive additional educational enrichment and after-school activities.