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They lost their children in a terrorist attack in Haifa four-and-a-half years ago, and have since been dedicated to their memorialization. From all of the private endeavors to memorialize children who will never return, three fathers – Yossi Tzur, Yossi Mendelevich, and Ron Kermann, began documenting memorial sites around the country. They took a camera and combed the entire country, looking for memorials and monuments, children’s parks, metal plaques and statues.
Yossi Tzur and Yossi Mendelevich next to their memorial exhibit that opened in OneFamily’s Jerusalem Center Nov. 1, 2007
On November 1, 2007, the “A Land Remembers Its Fallen” exhibition opened at the OneFamily Center in Jerusalem, where the three fathers displayed their memorial pictures.
The Kermann, Mendelevich and Tzur met under tragic circumstances. In the deadly attack on Route 37 on Moriah Boulevard in Haifa in March 2003, each of them lost a child – Tal Kermann, Asaf Tzur and Yuval Mendelevich. Within a short time, they took on the name “The Three Fathers”. They speak daily, and beyond the social support that comes from their joint destiny, they have become connected to various activities concerning the victims of terrorism.
In 2005, they conducted a media campaign against Hani Abu-Asad’s movie “Paradise Now”, which dealt with two suicide terrorists and was a candidate for the Best Foreign Film Award at the Oscars. The parents conducted a press conference, were interviewed in many languages, and signed tens of thousands of people, including victims of terror, on a petition calling on the Academy not to grant the award to the film.
But the exhibition is already a life’s work. “After my son was killed in March 2003 in Haifa, I began working on anything connected to memorialization,” says Yossi Tzur, a software engineer and project manager at Amdocs. “I turned it into a kind of personal project for myself. There are many groups in our country who deal with memorialization of soldiers, but unfortunately, there is no one responsible for memorializing civilians.”
A short time after the attack, Tzur went on unpaid leave from his job, and began a comprehensive study encompassing hundreds of memorial sites from the north to the south. “I photographed every memorial site I found. Every playground and ever school named after a civilian who fell in terrorist attacks,” he says.
Some of the memorial sites that appear in the three fathers’ exhibition
Wanting to memorialize his son, “Blondi”, Tzur began a mission that spanned the years and geographic regions in the history of Israeli bereavement. He put the photographs on an Internet site, www.ezy.co.il, which includes more than 400 pictures of various memorials to civilians who were murdered in terrorist attacks.
The oldest memorial site documented so far by Tzur’s camera is the emorial erected in 1913 in Moshav Kineret. The newest ones are memorial sites erected in memory of civilians who were killed during the Second Lebanon War, for instance at the train depot in Haifa. “Due to the Intifadah, there are memorials located on sidewalks, very close to the people. There are memorials from the Fedayeen period (the 1950s) which, when I visited them, looked as though people hadn’t been there in years,” Tzur says. “It was important for me to show them to the broad public.”
The exhibition was developed from the Internet site where the pictures are kept, as an additional way to try and return the issue to the public awareness. The OneFamily Center, which was chosen to display the pictures, is the base of operations of an organization established by Marc and Chantal Belzberg in 2001, which assists more than 2,600 families of terror victims. Thanks to the exhibition, the three bereaved fathers hope that the broader public will also become more involved with the thousands of victims. The 35 pictures chosen for the exhibition, out of hundreds, were chosen by the Three Fathers after many discussions. During the next few weeks, the exhibition will leave Jerusalem and will appear throughout the country in order to increase awareness.
Contrary to the beliefs of many who think that so many memorial sites create an environment of depression and sadness, and cause (society) to be founded on bereavement, the fathers are convinced that the truth is precisely the opposite. “Memorialization is something strange and positive in the Israeli vista,” says Tzur. “A family that has lost someone – in stead of being bitter and angry at a society that seems not to have done anything to prevent the murder of their loved one – instead makes a kind of deal with Israeli society. They invest in a park or a sports field, and in exchange, the public remembers. In this exhibition, we wanted to show the connection and the integration between memorialization and society. This is not a place of sadness and pain, but precisely one of happiness and optimism. Memorialization is a positive phenomenon, it is not just mourning and sadness. A memorial site is not necessarily a gravestone.”
And perhaps the public has already become desensitized to memorial efforts? “There is always place to be reminded and to remember,” says Tzur. “But most people pass by a memorial site every day and don’t even realize that it exists. It just gets swallowed up in the urban landscape. Next to Dizengoff Center, for instance, thousands of people pass the memorial every day, and I’m not sure how many of them really notice what it contains.”
Ron Kermann, father of Tal, of blessed memory, a 12th grader from Haifa who was killed in the same attack, is also occupied every day with different ways of memorializing her. For instance, the family is currently conducting a memorial campaign on the Internet site set up in Tal’s memory www.tal-smile.com, where a picture that Tal drew can be colored in in order to create a collection in her memory. “Memorialization for us is daily. It is daily suffering,” Kermann says painfully. “It is very important for us that we not forget them. I will tell Tal’s story to anyone who is prepared to listen. Our goal is pure, and it motivates us 24 hours a day.”
Yossi Mendelevich, father of Yuval, also expresses the hope that the Israeli memorial culture will become more developed. “In Europe, people walk by a memorial site, stop, and read what is written on the plaque or the sign,” Mendelevich explains. “In Israel, we also need to try and integrate memorialization in an honorable way, not by complaining. We need something that will become integrated in the fabric of daily urband life.”
They are trying to move their private struggle so that it touches all of us. “Our struggle with the civilian bereavement in Israel is very painful,” says Mendelevich. “The concept for many years was that we don’t cry over a civilian who was killed in the same way that we cry over an IDF soldier who was killed. It is clear to us that someone who falls victim to the enemy is a victim of Israel’s wars. There is no place for a hierarchy of bereavement. The exhibition that we are opening today is all about screaming – People, there is civilian bereavement here. We need to give it the appropriate honor.”
With reporting from Efrat Zemer of Maariv, 11/1/07