NEW YORK (JTA) — Sol Lapidus earned the Order of Lenin, the Soviet Union’s highest medal, for his role as a partisan fighter in the Belarussian forest during World War II.

Approximately 150 Russian Jewish Red Army veterans showed up for the official announcement of a new holiday celebrating the 1945 liberation of European Jewry. (Shahar Azran)

Lapidus proudly wore the bronze-and-red medal pinned to his suit jacket on Wednesday at the United Nations, where he joined approximately 150 mostly white-haired Jewish Red Army veterans, their lapels festooned with similar decorations.

The small army of aged veterans had gathered to make history again, to announce what was billed as the creation of a new Jewish holiday: “Rescue Day of European Jewry.”

Inspired by Russia’s Victory Day, which marks the anniversary of Germany’s official surrender on May 9, 1945, the new holiday will be marked on the 26th of Iyar, the Hebrew date on which the surrender took place.

For years, Victory Day has been celebrated not just in Russia but in countries with major Russian emigre populations, including Israel.

Rescue Day grew out of an international coalition of Russian Jewish groups, including the American Forum of Russian-Speaking Jews and the STMEGI Foundation, whose activists approached Jewish leaders around the world to call for a global Jewish recognition of the liberation. The activists won the support of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli government, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and chief rabbis from Europe.

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