This story was originally posted at Chicago Patch

Four paratroopers from the Israel Defense Forces visited the Chicagoland area as part of a delegation surrounding “Yom Hazikaron” and “Yom Ha’atzmaut,” Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days.

Arriving with the paratroopers were members of the IDF Musical Ensemble, some of Israel’s most talented active-duty artists, who perform for IDF troops stationed across Israel – and to select civilian audiences around the world.

The soldiers commemorated “Yom Hazikaron,” Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, on Sunday, April 30, at Beth Hillel in Wilmette, in a ceremony led by Consul General of Israel to the Midwest Aviv Ezra and attended by hundreds of local residents who had lost loved ones in Israel. As part of the ceremony, the IDF Musical Ensemble and local Israeli-American artists performed a selection of traditional Israeli songs.

“As an Israeli diplomat living abroad, it is always hard for me to commemorate this day outside of Israel. However, seeing this incredible crowd and the incredible community gathered here is mind boggling for me, and it gives this day a new and special meaning,” said Ezra. “To the families who mourn, I say: The entire state of Israel, the entire people of Israel, and all of us here share your pain – but not all of us really know your pain. What we do know is that those heroes, and their immense sacrifices, are the reason that Israel continues to exist.”

In partnership with the Shear Family Foundation, the Israeli soldiers also visited Chicago and North Shore schools, including Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School and Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago, Chicago Jewish Day School, Hillel Torah in Skokie, and Solomon Schechter Day School in Northbrook. Thousands of students from all five schools gathered at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day on May 2 with the visiting Israeli soldiers.

The paratroopers, some of whom are Lone Soldiers – those who immigrate to Israel with no immediate family in order to serve in the IDF – originally from the United States, spoke about their experiences leaving their families and friends to join the IDF and protect the State of Israel, where military service is mandatory for men and women.

“The Shear Family Foundation recognizes the extreme importance for young kids to be able to meet and encounter IDF soldiers, to hear their stories, and learn about the sacrifices made on behalf of Jews across the world,” said Shear Family Foundation Vice President John Shear, who is also an FIDF Central Region board member. “Likewise, this was an opportunity to show these brave soldiers how much the Chicago community cares and supports them through the crucial well-being and educational programs of FIDF.”

The FIDF Midwest Region adopted the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade as part of the FIDF Adopt-A-Brigade Program, which allows supporters to go beyond their donation to get more involved, providing financial aid for IDF soldiers in-need and their families, supporting Lone Soldiers, and funding general well-being activities and weeks of rest and recuperation for soldiers of the adopted brigade.