Like the eternal flame at its center, a memorial to a fallen American president chiseled into a mountain near Jerusalem endures.
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The Yad Kennedy memorial – with its apex 823 meters above sea level and its view of Jerusalem-area forests and valleys – is said to have been the brainchild of Menahem-Max Bressler, the president of the Jewish National Fund-U.S., shortly after JFK’s assassination exactly 50 years ago.
It was unveiled three years later, on July 4, 1966, in the presence of Kennedy family members including the president’s youngest brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.
President Kennedy’s widow, Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, first visited the site in 1978, planting a tree and laying a wreath. The adjoining John F. Kennedy Peace Forest was established in 1964.
A dedication wall lists dozens of American luminaries from a bygone era, from President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik to actor Jimmy Durante. At the heart of the circular monument – designed by two Israelis, architect David Resnick and sculptor Dov Feigin – is a hall with a bronze relief of Kennedy, surrounded by 51 concrete columns bearing the seals of each U.S. state and the District of Columbia.
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, a pilgrimage to this shrine of glass and concrete – in the form of a tree stump severed long before its time – is both somber and mesmerizing.
During a visit by a reporter, the silence at the mountaintop was pierced by the arrival of a chartered bus; schoolchildren from Beit Shemesh descended and swarmed the monument, climbing up and sliding down its sloping columns.
“They mean no disrespect; kids will be kids,” said Noah, a 19-year-old leader. Told that their visit nearly coincided with the anniversary of the assassination, another counselor named Ya’akov responded: “Really? We came here because, like many schools, we begin our class trips here.”
“There was a man who tried to help other people,” said 7-year-old Renana Tzur, after she emerged from the hall and a brief group session led by one of her counselors. “But they killed him.”