One day, when we were in 10th grade, Ilan and I were studying for a math exam. We had to remember the proof of a formula known as “the Cosine Rule,“ but Ilan just couldn’t memorize it.
“I have a cunning plan”, he told me. That was Ilan, always full of cunning plans, constantly engineering pranks and hatching devious plots.
On the day of the exam he arrived before everyone else to class carrying a ladder which he had “borrowed” from the janitor’s closet. He climbed to the top of the ladder, drew out a piece of paper from his pocket and stuck it to the ceiling with sticky tape, directly above his desk. During the exam he took out a small piece of broken mirror from his pocket and placed it on his desk. Reflected on it from the ceiling was the proof of the Cosine Rule which he had written backwards. He neatly copied it out without arousing anyone’s suspicion.
Now, each time I prepare a test for class, I think of him and smile to myself as I look at the ceiling, checking for pieces of paper stuck to it.
“God takes pity on the kindergarten children,” wrote the poet Yehuda Amichai. But, in 1987, we were no longer kindergarten children. We weren’t even high school students. We were young soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces. “And on the older ones he takes no pity,” continues the poem.
How sad and true.
Ilan was killed with no pity, no warning, no justice. He was killed on the Lebanese border, late at night, during a sudden ambush. A rocket-propelled grenade pierced his tank and ended his life. And this on the eve of Pesach.
I remember the newsflash that same night: “An incident at the border…. four fatalities.” And then I heard his name being articulated slowly, deliberately: “Ilan Haziza from Ra’anana.” Then came that terrible shock, the terrible realization that Ilan was dead. The end of innocence, aged 19.
The following day we gathered at the cemetery: his family, his army comrades and us, his school friends. How it all seems so vivid again. We stared transfixed at that piece of land where he now lies, unable and unwilling to comprehend. Eyal recalled how, when we were in primary school, the teacher explained that, in the Bible, Ilan means “tree” and that trees were a sign of life because they bore fruit and lived long. So why, he asked wistfully, was Ilan not granted the blessings of a tree?
I recall his parents standing hunched and grief stricken, and that awkward feeling of embarrassment. We did not know what to do; they did not know what to say. And then Ayelet walked up to his father and hugged him and they both broke down sobbing. I can still hear his mother’s wailing, as they lowered the flag-draped coffin to the pit: “You must not bury flowers, flowers need to grow.” In the background his father recited kaddish in trembling tones.
It is difficult to imagine that 27 years have since gone by; that Ilan was killed before the dawn of the Internet; that he did not live to see peace made between Israel and Jordan; that he did not see the end of the spring of 1987.
It is hard to fathom that he missed out on the amazing changes that have swept the world: the end of apartheid; the collapse of the Berlin Wall; the first intifada. What would he say of the revolutions which were hatched in the blogosphere and coordinated using Twitter, instant messaging and YouTube? Revolutions that have brought down the regime in Egypt and spread like wild fire throughout the Middle East? Ilan would be dumbfounded to discover that I now live in Australia, that I now teach the Cosine Rule.
I wonder what he would make of the world today; what he would have become and what he would have accomplished, if only God had granted him life.
I think of him often. I see sparks of him in some of my students when I hear a mischievous comment, or suspect a “cunning plan” being hatched by my own students. They are now approaching the age he and I were when we last laughed. There is that wistful sentiment each time I hear the happy clamor my students make on their way to class, the noise of youth and confidence. He comes back to me at random times and in unexpected settings. When I see young soldiers in uniform, I see him once more: eager, motivated, ready for action.
It is hard to let Ilan go, to consign him to the past. Just like Edna St. Vincent Millay writes:
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
We are now in our fifth decade while Ilan remains 19, but I shall always remember the incorrigible prankster who hated math and loved history; I shall remember parties at the beach; the music we danced to; weekly lists of the girls we fancied; and the hikes we did across the country we loved.
I shall always remember the young man with the spring in his walk, with the sun in his eyes and a smile on his face. He remains and continues.
I am not resigned.
Ilan Haziza was killed on the Lebanese border on April 15, 1987.