Twenty five years ago this week Lieutenant Alex Singer was killed in action in a terrorist ambush in Lebanon whilst rushing forward under fire with the unit medic to try and save the life of his commanding officer. It was Alex’s twenty-fifth birthday. I was serving in the same Givati brigade unit as Alex z”l at the time. Alex, like myself, was a chayal boded “lone soldier” who had not only volunteered to a combat unit in the IDF after graduating summa cum laude from Cornell University university, but also gone on to volunteer for the infantry officers course.
Despite my idealistic urge to serve our country it was an emotionally, physically, linguistically and psychologically challenging period for me. The knowledge that this smiling confident American officer had overcome all these obstacles and risen to a command position in my unit was a tremendous source of comfort and pride for me. That is why his death came as such a shock to me, and indeed the entire unit.
Since that terrible day a quarter of a century ago I have gone to visit Alex’s grave annually amid the quite grassy solitude of Mt. Herzl. For the last thirteen years I have brought my Birthright groups to this holy spot and shared not only the story of Alex’s death, but more importantly the story of his life. Alex lived a full life. He died while doing what he very much wanted to be doing.
After his death his parents, Susan and Max, decided that rather than build another memorial in a country that unfortunately has too many, they would gather his writings and amazing art and share with the world what Alex had lived for. The resulting book: “Alex: Building a Life – the Story of an American Who Fell Defending Israel,” (Gefen: New York/Jerusalem, 1996) is a must read for those who want to know more about this gifted writer, artist, and lover of Zion. It is an instructional manual on how to live a meaningful life full of light and beauty. Alex personified the statement by Gandhi: “We must become the change we wish to see.”
Among his writings was a poem written as he was nearing the conclusion of the IDF officers course. He wonders “when the war comes” if he will have, “the calm power to yell to them (his troops), or to whisper Kadima (forward).” Most importantly, he wonders when facing the rega ha’emet (“moment of truth”) whether, “I will have to have the calm power to step forward myself.” Alex died as he lived, leading by dugma ishit (“personal example”).
Alex wrote a letter to his brother Saul in 1983 on the eve of his Aliya. He stated that: “The purpose of my aliya will be a combination of wanting a greater chance to make my Judaism one of joy rather than one of burdens, of wanting to be part of Israel’s development both as a state and as a beacon, and of feeling that it is the duty of the individual Jew to help the Jewish people.”
Zionism gave a meaning to his life and he gave a meaning to Zionism by his life, and ultimately with his life. It does not matter how long one lives, rather what really matters is what one does with ones life. Alex lived a full life with no regrets. May his life and memory be for a blessing.