Latest update: April 26th, 2013
Every Friday night at the Shabbat table, Jewish men display their hakarat hatov for their particular “woman of valor”, by singing an ode to her that describes in great detail her many meritorious attributes and activities.
In the State of Israel, the deeds, achievements and mesirat nefesh of a particular segment of the population are also recognized, praised and appreciated – not just on erev Shabbat, but 24/7. But unlike the women of valor, these individuals are not adults. Rather they are the nation’s collective children of valor – teenagers who have bravely embraced their destiny of defending their ancestral home. They are the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
These altruistic youngsters put their personal lives on hold as they report to their bases, ready to do what is asked of them, even though both they and their parents -the biological ones and their ideological ones, for each soldier is EVERYONE”s son and daughter – know all to well that their young lives, and all their dreams, plans and hopes for the future, may be violently aborted, ripped by an enemy’s bullet, bomb or grenade.
It is the ultimate nightmare for a parent – that the natural order of life be cruelly reversed, turned around and inverted, and that they will bury and mourn their offspring and their unlived lives; rather than have that child say kaddish for them.
At a gathering earlier this month in New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel, hosted by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), attendees were enveloped by a mother’s grief as she described the loss of her beloved son at the age of 21- a young, vibrant man; his parents’ “kaddishel”; his younger sisters’ protective brother. This boy could have led a carefree, safe life in the Europe of his cousins, but he knew it was not enough to “talk the talk”; as an Israeli he also had to “walk the walk.” He put his life on the line for his fellow citizens so they could safely live theirs.
Mir and Yossi Hadassi, lost their beloved son Yonatan z”l in 2006 during the Second Lebanon War. He served in the Maglan, a special forces unit renowned for its covert missions in enemy territory. Its mission that day was to take out enemy rocket launchers that were injuring and killing Israelis.
In his attempt to save Israeli lives, Yonatan and paramedic Yotam Gilboa, 21, lost theirs.
While addressing the audience, Mir, at times stoic, at times tearful, shared that her family was Dutch and that when she was 16, her parents and siblings converted and made aliyah. Eventually, her parents and some siblings moved back to Holland. She and a couple of others did not. For her and Israel it was love at first sight – a love that was absorbed by her sabra soldier child.
He may have been old enough to be in combat, but he was, like all soldiers, a child. Mir recounted how she spoke with him on the phone right before he left on his mission. She wanted to know if he had eaten a good breakfast, and if he had slept enough. When he was silent in answer to her declaration that she loved him, she laughingly rebuked him, asking if he was embarrassed to say he loved her in front of his friends. His, “I love you too, Ema” were the last words he was ever to utter to her.
Tragically, this bereft mother belongs to a “club” that has too many members – a club that no parent willingly joins.
Every Israeli soldier, most of who are in their late teens or early twenties are – in the eyes of their parents and grandparents – babies in uniform. As such, many need help adjusting to the physical and mental trauma of being in combat; of being away from their parents and siblings and all the comforts of home; of having to deal with the loss of their friends and their own injuries and wounds, both physical and psychological.
Friends of the IDF was established over 30 years ago by a group of Holocaust survivors who realized that young Israeli soldiers needed all kinds of support. Subsequently, over the last three decades, they have created educational, recreational, medical, social and cultural programs to enhance and improve the physical and emotional well being of the young men and women of the IDF.
One such program provides full four-year scholarships to former combat soldiers whose dream of a higher education is out of reach because they do not have the financial means to obtain one. (In lieu of this help, each scholarship recipient must complete 130 hours of community service each year.)
Monies raised by the FIDF are used to build, renovate and run recreation and sports centers, shuls, and “soldier homes” where soldiers can recharge their batteries and relax, exercise, read, etc. The FIDF also provides funding for medical and rehabilitation services to help injured soldiers. These include physiotherapy centers, dental clinics and psychiatric facilities.
This year, the 1300 guests who attended the FIDF’s National NY Gala Dinner raised over $25 million. Among the very generous donations was $9.25 million dollars pledged by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) and $500,000 from the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF). An American astronaut, Col. Paul Lockhart, delighted the audience by pledging $1,000. The event was chaired by Mr. Benny Shabtai, his 15th year of doing so. Author and nationally syndicated radio host Dr. Monica Crowley once again served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies.
Below is a poem dedicated in memory of the chayalim of the IDF whose lives were stolen from them, when they still had so much living to do.
I stand by your grave, so suddenly your new home, Your “address” engraved on cold, granite stone, Your permanent residence is under the ground, In a place that is dark, devoid of all sound.
Abruptly cut off from the music and the light, You were denied the future that was your birthright, What you would have accomplished will never be known, Your potential is buried and will never be sown.
But you will still live on.
You will live through my body, my mind, my heart, Intertwined with my soul, you will never depart, You will be part of my moments, my actions, my now, My comrade, my brother, this I do vow.
My eyes will be your eyes, you will hear through my ears, Experiencing my joys, as well as my fears. The sights and the sounds and the smell of the air, I will absorb and drink in and with you share.
As I walk on the beach, the sun warming my face, You will bask in the heat, far from your cold place, And as a rainbow of flowers greet my eyes in the park, You will be dazzled by the colors – far from the dark.
And as I sit with our friends at an outdoor café, Eating and drinking – as we do every day, You will be part of our gathering, enjoying food and drink, For my thoughts will connect us, my feelings -our link.
When I step from my chuppah, my kallah at my side, You will always be a part of us, never ever cast aside, For through me you will live, our spirits as one, Until the day will come when my own life is done.
And when I sit with my child, the one with your name, You will be there with us as we set up our game, And as we sing at the table, the Shabbat candles aglow, Through our joined voices, your spirit will flow.
And if it is my mazal that I grow old, You will commiserate with me as I complain of the cold, And groan at my slowness as I shuffle by, For as long as I live – you will never die.
You will live through my body, my mind, my heart,
For the rest of my life, we will never be apart,
For you will exist within me – in my today, in my now.
Dear friend, brother, comrade, this I do vow.
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