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Today is a day that everyone in Israel remembers. This year more than most, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom to live as Jews in the Jewish homeland of Israel.

Since the war began on October 7th, 620 soldiers have been killed. That staggering number is part of the 25,034 soldiers who have given their lives for Israel since it began.

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One would be hard-pressed to find a family, or a home in Israel that did not know first-hand one of the fallen. These are our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. These are our people. We all remember them, at least one of them.

This is one who I remember, the man I served alongside with, the man I am proud to have called a friend while he was alive.

Today I remember you, Yigal, as many citizens of Israel remember others who have fallen in the line of duty. I had the privilege of knowing you as a lone soldier – we were lone soldiers together in the artillery unit in which we served. Even though more years have passed since your death than the year in which you lived, I still go on remembering, and thus part of you is still alive in me, and in those others who knew you and remember you. You are not forgotten.

I only knew you for a few months before you were taken from us. We were ‘the lone soldiers’ from opposite sides of the globe, You from Ukraine, myself from Canada, we came together in Israel to fight during the height of the second intifada, to protect the land we chose to call home.

In that time, you gave me the confidence to know that if you could do it, then I could too. If we were given a command in training that was too hard, but you persevered, and you usually did, then so could I. It wasn’t easy being a lone soldier, but the loneliness, like many other things we had in common, also created unity and camaraderie between us. Your love for the Land of Israel and the Jewish people, your journey of making aliyah, and your time in yeshiva, and also in the army, all of this made you a hero. Even though I was on the same path, you inspired me, and I hope, that I in turn, inspired you.

You were one of my friends who fought by my side, and you used your artistic talents to draw the shirt for our unit – I still have it, and every time I wear it I remember you.

Like me, you didn’t know Hebrew perfectly then, and it was hard for both of us to integrate. We were both afraid to be the on-duty soldier tasked with being in charge of doing roll calls, we were both trepidatious to speak over the communications equipment. But when we needed to, we overcame and we did it, like everything else we needed to do.

You always managed to raise the morale in our unit, and mine especially. You were one of the quiet strong ones, one of the most trustworthy, loyal, gentle, and warm souls I have met. You were our brother who gave his life for this country, and I remember you, will always remember you, and everyone like you who served, fought, and died so that we could all be free. I will never forget your smile and your laughter, and I will never forget what it felt like to carry your coffin on your final journey. To you my friend, Yigal Gehrman, despite the years that have passed since, and despite the fact that there are many others who now also need remembering, I want to let you know, that I remember you, today and forever!

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Raphael Poch works as the Senior PR and Marketing Manager at Aish, is a freelance journalist, volunteers as an EMT and lives with his family in Efrat.