As the somber ceremony began, once again I eyed my surroundings, and saw families standing by graves all around me. Interspersed amongst them were other Red Berets, for only the paratrooper brigade had this custom of representing their fallen. At this moment more than any other, tears welled up inside, for I realized that this was more than a personal tragedy of one fallen tzanchan, paratrooper, but rather the day that all of Israel remembered the men who had laid down their lives in the attempt to build a home for the Jewish people. The red berets standing at the cemetery that day represented to me that successful effort of rebuilding a home we had lost so long ago. The dead came back to life in the form of a new generation of young soldiers who stood at the graves on the land which God had promised them. While the living cried, the dead now rested eternally in the bosom of Eretz Yisroel, the Land of Israel.
My adopted family was now in tears and the horns blared and reverberated through the cemetery signifying the moment of silence and memory that had finally come. Hhhhhhhmmmmmm, like a primordial hum or a sound of the shofar the Jewish soul could not fight back tears.
In that one moment I though of gratitude: I am so thankful to you, fallen tzanchan, fallen Jew, fallen brother. Without you my parents would have had no place to run to from the choke hold of the Soviet Union, without you Jews of the world would never have shelter, and without you, I would not stand here today, wearing this uniform with a red beret that did not yet belong to me.
Shimon Peres finished speaking and the ceremony was over. The family thanked me for coming. They looked down onto their son’s grave and G-d only knows what went through their minds. They walked away slowly, the mother leaning on her husband, noticeably weaker than when she entered. I would probably never see them again.
Shalom EEMA, shalom ABBA, I said to myself.
Seven months after this story took place, Tom Kareen, one of the company’s commanders, was killed in a Hizbullah ambush. Also in that altercation, Yoav Be’er, a friend of mine in platoon two, lost an eye and a leg.
Tom Kareen and I did not get along too well throughout most of the service. However, a few weeks before his death, as I stood at an overlook guard post I saw him from a distance leading other soldiers while he carried a communications radio on his back. He saw me too, and from that distance he waved broadly with a big smile as to say “shalom friend, there is peace between us.” That wave struck me as being uncharacteristic of army behavior and it made me feel human again if only for a bit.
When he was killed, the battalion commander came to speak with us. He shared our sadness but told us not to cry at the funeral. He said: “The enemy should not see you weeping like babies in front of the cameras, we are an army, and death is a part of it.” I knew that he was right.
Tom was buried in the soil of his home kibbutz, Ginosar, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the Kinneret. It was the most beautiful cemetery I had ever seen. It was hard to fight back tears at the funeral as per our order, especially when Tom’s fiancee eulogized her dead man with such warm words and tears.
Today is the day of memory and the time for those tears.
About the Author: Yishai Fleisher is the Contributing Editor and PR manager at the JewishPress.com, and Israel's only English language broadcast radio show host (Galey Yisrael 106.5FM). Yishai is an Israeli Paratrooper, a graduate of Cardozo Law School, and the founder of Kumah ("Arise" in Hebrew), an NGO dedicated to promoting Zionism and strengthening Israel's national character. Yishai is married to Malkah, they have two children, and they live on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
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