I remember walking through the corridors of a new school, a tiny, newly bar mitzvah’d “man” looking for his place in the world. The school was so big and I was so small. I knew no one and no one knew me. In class I always sat by the window and watched the world outside wishing that I was out in it instead of stuck in a class room. My mind wandered constantly to a place without teachers and school uniforms, a place where I could feel as if my life had meaning. A place beyond the grey clouds of London, a place beyond the uncertainty of being a Jew in a world where a Jew was nothing to be proud of, a guilty secret grudgingly admitted to only when asked.
It was at this time in my life that I first met Meir Har-Zion. He wouldn’t remember it, he wasn’t there. I met him in a book of heroes of the IDF that I discovered neglected in the corner of a shul library. I was entranced the moment I began to read that old, dusty book, with the occasional torn page. The rabbi told me to keep the book and I carried it with me through those long school corridors, in my pocket during lessons about nothing.
I skipped class to read about the exploits of Unit 101, of the Paratroopers, of the battle at the Mitla Pass, commando raids into Gaza pre 1967 and reprisal attacks on the enemies of my people. I read of Arik Sharon, of Sapapo, of Moshe Dayan, of Motta Gur, Raful Eitan and of the legend himself Meir Har-Zion. The consummate soldier, the man who was promoted without even being sent to officer school. The Jew who knew no fear. I remember how exhilarated I felt when reading of the vengeance he took against the Bedouin who murdered his sister. He knew the risks, he didn’t care, his response was personal and it was bloody. The sheer determination he had to go out on his own in search of those who shattered his life and shatter theirs left me wondering if this man was real at all. Could such people really exist?
I knew then that I had to be like these Jews, these warriors of Israel. I had a goal and I had a hero to emulate. It was reading about Meir Har-Zion that I learned about the Paratroopers of the IDF, it was where I first heard of Sayeret Tzanhanim, their famed recon unit of which Har Zion was a member. The very tip of the IDF spear and it set me on the path that ended here in Israel.
Today we lay to rest a veteran of battles, of skirmishes and of secret operations we may never know of. His name will not be forgotten for his story is woven into the very fabric of the nation of Israel. The man is dead but the legend of Meir Har-Zion cannot die, it has spread far and wide, making the IDF the envy of every country in the world. His deeds have even spread to small libraries in London where they lie waiting for a 13-year-old to find them and learn about a different breed of Jew, a Jew who fought back.
He will forever be remembered as a hero at a time when the existence of the Jewish State was so fragile that it was considered to be a momentary mistake soon to be erased. As we bury the man who showed the world that Jews could be warriors once again we are burying something more than a man, we are burying an age in the history of our people.
But we aren’t burying a legend for the legend that is Meir Har-Zion will live forever.