As Philadelphians prepared to celebrate Independence Day, a short ceremony was held outside Congregation Mikveh Israel in Old City to mark the 30th anniversary of another historic event that occurred on the fourth of July — Israel's hostage rescue at Entebbe.
Considered one of the Israeli military's greatest successes, three planes carrying more than 200 Israeli commandos rescued 101 Israelis and Jews who were being held hostage at Uganda's Entebbe airport by terrorists.
Back on June 27, 1976, an Air France flight en route from Israel to France was hijacked. The non-Jewish passengers were eventually set free; the hijackers threatened to kill the Jewish hostages unless 53 Palestinian prisoners were released internationally.
Yonatan Netanyahu — a graduate of Cheltenham High School whose father, Benzion Netanyahu, was a professor at Dropsie College — commanded the operation. He was the lone Israeli military casualty.
Yoni, as he was commonly known, was the older brother of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Four hostages were killed in the process: Ida Borovitch, Pasco Cohen, Jean-Jacques Maimoni and Dora Bloch.
The June 3 candlelighting ceremony, attended by about 50 people, took place outside the synagogue at the monument erected in honor of Netanyahu in 1986.
"What happened on America's bicentennial, in my view, it was a miraculous occurrence," said Lou Balcher, who helped organize the event with the congregation and the Center City Kehillah.
"We heard that there was a selection of Jewish passengers and non-Jewish passengers, and it was so reminiscent of the Holocaust," he said. Balcher currently works at the Israeli Consulate.
"Everyone was praying that a miracle would happen," recalled Balcher, "and it took place."