It is a name, that until recently, held no meaning to me. He was a complete stranger, about whom I had never heard and whom I had never met. Yet, an image of the last seconds of his life won’t leave my mind.
Roi was a son. He was a brother. He was a husband to Sara and a father to three-year-old Gilad and one-year-old Yoav. But most of all, Roi was a hero for all of us. He was a face and a name to the many Jewish heroes spanning the generations.
Roi’s funeral was on Thursday (July 27), the day that would have been his 31st birthday.
Major Roi Klein was a Golani brigade deputy commander. He was killed this past Wednesday, in an ambush among the houses of Bint Jbail, a large village in southern Lebanon. Hizbullah terrorists killed eight soldiers, including Roi, and injured nearly two dozen.
There were two other soldiers next to Roi. A hand grenade was thrown at them and Roi shouted, “Grenade!” He then threw his body over it, sacrificing his life for the sake of his soldiers, who later attributed being alive to his act of selflessness.
In his last seconds of life, Roi mustered the strength to shout “Shema Yisroel” the prayer that Jews have prayed for centuries, declaring our belief in G-d and in a better world; the prayer that so many Jewish martyrs throughout the generations called out as they were being led to their deaths.
My mind can’t stop conjuring what it must have been like in those last seconds of his life, when Roi made the split-second decision to jump on the grenade. I imagine Roi seeing his beloved family in his mind’s eye − his wife, and their two young children who would now grow up knowing him only from stories that they would be told or from pictures they’d be shown.
I imagine Roi thinking about his grieving elderly parents; of his mother, Shoshana, whose voice cracked at her son’s grave as she cried out, “The pain is unbearableWe will look after the children and raise them according to what you left behind”
And I imagine Roi seeing the West Bank hilltop settlement of Eli, where he and his wife idealistically made their home, despite those who wished to dismantle it.
It was for these loved one that Roi served in the special units of the Paratroop and Golani brigades. It was for them and for the ideals represented by the Shema Yisrael prayer, that Roi diligently and courageously pursued his army service, advancing to the point where he would have been promoted to battalion commander.
What a colossal contrast between Roi and his enemy.
Roi was there to ensure a peaceful existence of his people in their homeland. He was there to safeguard the innocent lives of his children and his nation; to ensure that people could live in their homes in peace and tranquility; to guarantee that they could continue their ordinary day-to-day activities. Activities like shopping in a mall without being blown to bits, like eating a family meal together in a pizza shop without worrying about flying shrapnel, like praying in a synagogue without having to run for cover in a bomb shelter, or like sending their children on a school bus without thoughts of bullets penetrating within.
Roi was there to defend his people against those that vowed their destruction. Even in his death, he sacrificed his own life to ensure that two of his comrades could live.
I picture his enemy, too, in my mind. He is there to cause as much death, devastation and destruction as he possibly can. He is eager to send his young, strapped with explosive bombs, stuffed with nails, on missions of “suicide bombings,” as long as in their death they murder as many Jews as possible with them. He is launching rocket after rocket into densely-populated Jewish cities so that hospitals healing the sick and homes housing the elderly will be destroyed together with the lives of those inside.
Roi’s enemy was willing to die to bring death and mourning to as many as possible; Roi was willing to die to ensure life and liberty for others, to preserve a world in which Jews could pray to G-d in their synagogues, perform G-d’s commandments and make our world a better, more moral and more conscientious place.
This is the third time in this last century that the Jewish people have found themselves on the front lines against those who sought their annihilation.
For the Nazis, the Jew was a racial impurity to be exterminated like insects. For the Soviet Communists, the Jewish religion was a thorn in their sides to be eradicated. And for the Islamic extremists, the Jew and his state must be eliminated from the face of the earth.
Less than a century has passed since Jews fell in the Soviet gulag with the chant of Shema in their mouths for the mere “crime” of observing kosher or Shabbat in their private lives. Just over a half a century has passed since the echo of the Shema resonated in the Nazi gas chambers where Jews were suffocated and then burnt to ashes in the crematoria just because they were born Jews.
And now Roi Klein followed in the path of these martyrs, dying with the cry of Shema on his lips in the act of defending his people from those who, yet again, wish to destroy them.
Roi is no stranger after all. He is each of our husbands, sons and brothers. His face is the face of each of our heroes and martyrs.