As a child Tamar Ariel was always on the go. She walked at 10 months, rode around on bicycles, climbed trees and rollerbladed around the neighborhood. Soon she was running races and zooming off on motorcycles. Being a religious girl in Israel, she completed her two-year national service, then decided to do more for her country.
“We weren’t surprised,” said her mother, Anat Ariel.
Tamar passed months of grueling tests and was accepted into the Israel Air Force pilot academy.
“We were so proud of her,” Anat said. “Tamar was the first religious young woman to complete the pilot’s course. It wasn’t easy but she loved a challenge and was respected by everyone. She was a team player, someone you could count on in a tough situation.”
Tamar got her wings in 2012 in an emotional ceremony that her mother will never forget.
After completing her three years at the flight academy, Tamar wanted to do more. She signed on to serve another nine years. As a combat navigator she was posted to the Jezreel Valley squadron where her flights were used as examples for other aspiring pilots.
Then came Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014. “Tamar was never afraid,” her mother said. “She told me once that she always felt safe up in the air and was more worried about her fellow soldiers on the ground. While flying missions, she always prayed for them.”
Capt. Tamar Ariel, 24, flew so many missions in the Gaza campaign that she felt totally exhausted. She had to take a well-deserved vacation. It would be a hiking trip in Nepal with friends. She planned the trip with precision, like a military expedition. Only this time the outcome was different.
Her mother got the news on the eve of Simchat Torah. “A horrible snowstorm had hit the region where Tamar and her friends were hiking,” she said. “We lost contact with the group. The hours ticked away and we feared the worst.”
During those long hours of struggling in the snow, Tamar became the group’s company commander, shouting out orders, clearing paths, and warming the bodies of her friends she was determined to save. Thanks to Tamar, two young women survived the ferocious snowstorm. But not Tamar. She succumbed to hypothermia.
With tears clouding her eyes, Anat told the story of her heroic daughter at the Friends of the IDF dinner on March 15 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
The story doesn’t end there. While Anat was sitting shiva with her husband Chanan, army officials came with a paper for them to sign — to agree to let their three sons remain as IDF combat soldiers.
Anat sat as the memories overwhelmed her. “I thought about that paper we signed not so many years before. I thought about the little girl who grew up to be a strong and giving fighter, committed to her fellow soldiers and country. Tamar loved Eretz Israel and the IDF. There was no doubt we signed as a symbol of our faith in G-d and in the future of our country.”
As a result one son, Yair, now serves in a special unit. The other two sons, Jonathan and Asaf, became cadets in the same pilot course their sister did. Jonathan recently graduated as a pilot.
As Anat brushed away the tears, some 1,300 dinner guests rose and applauded. Except Lt. Col. Shai Siman Tov who was confined in a wheelchair. The 37-year-old commander of the Golani Brigade’s 12th Lightning Battalion was injured in the Gaza campaign when a terror tunnel collapsed on him. At the dinner he was accompanied by his wife Daniella, 39, son Itamar, 4, and daughter Omri, 2.
FIDF national chairman Arthur Stark presented the inaugural Defenders of Israel Award to Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson. The Boston-born business magnate said his father did not leave him with anything materialistic, “only a love for Israel and certain values.”
Adelson said he was proud that his Israeli-born wife had served in the IDF. “I would serve today but I don’t think they take senior citizens.”
The gala raised $33.1 million to support educational and well-being programs for the soldiers of Israel.
Tim Boxer was a columnist at the New York Post for two decades. At the same time he has been a columnist for The New York Jewish Week for 36 years, and editor of 15MinutesMagazine.com for 17 years. He is the author of Jewish Celebrity Hall of Fame, interviews of Hollywood stars about their Jewish roots.