This week I had the privilege of guiding groups from, “The border with Lebanon to the desert in the south” (from the Prayer for the IDF) in Israel. I was reminded of the agony and ecstasy of life in Israel. In the Golan, after marveling at the stunning natural beauty, the ancient Jewish remains and thriving modern communities, we turned to the strategic importance of the plateau. We visited “The Valley of Tears” and I recounted of the desperately heroic battle in 1973, against seemingly insurmountable odds, by the armoured corps and men like Tvika Greengold and Avigdor Kahalani. From there I took the group to a former Syrian bunker and, under the shade of the Eucalyptus trees, recounted the inspirational story of Eli Cohen. At the conclusion of the story I read the Bar-Mitzvah speech of Shaul Cohen, Eli’s son.
Shaul was only 2 weeks old when he last saw his father. At Kfar Habad, on July 29, 1977 at the joint Bar Mitzvah for 100 fatherless boys, Shaul was asked to say something on their behalf. This is what he said:
I would like to have been like all other children. I would have liked my father to be a simple man and not a hero. The he would be alive and I would have had a father whom I knew, and who lived with us like all other fathers. I have read everything about my father’s life and what he did for our country. I have collected all the books, articles and photographs. But I have hesitated to talk about him until now for I knew that it still hurt my mother when my father’s name was mentioned. I will now make my vow. I promise, you, father, that in my life I will never fail you. I will do my duty with all my strength and devotion for the State of Israel. I will be a faithful son of an admired hero. I will try to be like you, father. That is my pledge.
A few days later I was in the awe-inspiring scenery of the Northern Negev at the new visitors center in Mizpeh Ramon, where there is a beautifully organized exhibition on Ilan and Asaf Ramon (in addition to fantastic exhibitions and AV on the Machtesh itself).
There is a juxtaposed photograph of Ilan and Asaf both receiving their honour cadets’ award at the conclusion of the IAF pilot training course, separated by a generation. The photo has a quote from Asaf Ramon, who was also, in the words of Shaul, “a faithful son of an admired hero.” This is what Asaf said on receiving his IAF pilot’s wings:
I am fulfilling a childhood dream. From dream to reality…what would dad say? Proud, happy, a second-generation graduation with honours from the pilot’s course. This is my high point in my relation to him…it’s an achievement like climbing an unconquered summit… Our parents gave us a personal example of how to achieve an appropriate balance between the goal and the path.
As much as every Israeli parent would love to see their children grow up and not have to don a uniform at the age of eighteen – that is our reality. Thank God that we can protect ourselves, and Jews throughout the world. We all know the consequences of not being in charge of our own destiny and relying on other peoples for pity.
I was moved to great emotion by the writings of Shaul and Asaf. Shaul’s pledge to try and be like his father meant that he will do everything, with all of his heart, soul and might for the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Let us be grateful for those boys and girls, and the values on which they were educated, who give the best years of their life, and sometimes their very lives, and are the people who step forward to keep our Zionist dream alive!