Diaspora torchlight reinstated for Independence Day ceremony

Culture Minister Regev, who instituted the Diaspora lighting two years ago, announced Monday that she would abolish it but then backtracked.

By World Israel News Staff

Culture Minister Miri Regev has decided to include a Diaspora representation, after all, in the torch-lighting segment of the annual Mount Herzl ceremony which marks the conclusion of Remembrance Day and the onset of Independence Day.

Two years ago, Regev, whose ministerial position puts her in charge of state ceremonies, had decided to include a Diaspora lighting for one of the torches. At the 2017 ceremony, the Diaspora torch was jointly lit by a co-founder of the Birthright program, Michael Steinhardt, and Simon Wiesenthal Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier.

Last year, there was no participation from the Diaspora after American actress Mayim Bialik was chosen but declined on the grounds that she had a prior commitment relating to her role in a U.S. television comedy series.

In first reporting Regev’s original decision to exclude the Diaspora from this year’s ceremony, the Ynet news website said that it was due to “a very difficult year in relations between the Israeli government and Diaspora Jewry” over differences concerning mixed-gender prayer at the Western Wall and non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism.

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The minister’s office did not specify a reason for her decision to abolish the Diaspora lighting, however, Ynet reports that Regev’s decision raised tensions even further in various Jewish communities, including among North American leaders, where the strained relationship with Israel is seen as the most pronounced among Diaspora Jewry.

Israel’s Ministry for Diaspora Affairs had also voiced its objection to the decision.

In announcing her reversal on Thursday, Regev’s office maintained that it was never the minister’s intention to make the Diaspora torch-lighting a permanent fixture at the ceremony, but that she has now acceded to the calls to maintain the new custom.

The ministry’s statement notes that “we have witnessed anti-Semitism raising its ugly head over the past year against our people in the Diaspora,” adding that due to the difficult plight suffered by the Jews outside Israel, Regev decided to grant “a place of honor this year as well to our brothers and sisters who walk upright and with pride with Jewish symbols.”

In the statement, the minister cites a message from the French Jewish community which “broke my heart” in its description of how they remain proud despite the anti-Semitism in their country.

The Jerusalem ceremony is scheduled to take place on May 8.