Once again, Israel has embarked on its yearly journey from the deep pain of Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) to the great joy of Yom HaAtzmaut (69 Israel Independence Day). With millions of Israelis and Jews around the world, I will bow my head at the mark of the memorial siren and remember the soldiers who list their lives fighting for the freedom of the Jewish state. I will also think about the young women who have had to bear the unspeakable burden of losing their loved ones—boyfriends, fiancées, and husbands—in Israel’s wars. The unmarried among these women bear an extra burden: Since they were not married to their partners, the IDF did not officially notify them of their loved ones’ deaths. That often meant hearing the terrible news from a friend, from a family member, or, tragically, over the social media, TV or radio.
I realized after Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014 that I had to speak out for these young forgotten women.
Edna Seroussi was set to marry Lieutenant Hadar Goldin a month after he fell in Protective Edge. Yet Edna heard about her fiancée’s death not through official IDF protocol but from her mother. To this day, Hamas holds Lt. Goldin’s body. Edna views herself as a widow, yet since she and Lt. Goldin were not yet married, Edna was ineligible to receive support from the army. She and women in situations like hers needs the official and public recognition to get the proper mental support. They used to be full partners of their loved ones and they refused to be distressed after losing their loved ones.
When all is said and done, the legal status of a couple does not change the love they shared, and it does not affect the pain felt by a woman whose partner was killed in battle. I have committed myself to helping these young women obtain the recognition they deserve from the army and Israel society. Together with the non-profit Organization for the Emotional Support of Girlfriends of Fallen Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, we have begun to change the situation and to increase the women’s awareness of the support that they can get, even if they lost their loved ones many years ago.
As the chair of the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, I organized a hearing in the Knesset to bring this issue to the public’s attention and to begin to search for solutions. When I meet a woman who has lost her boyfriend or fiancée, I cannot bring myself to look her in the eyes so long as we have no satisfactory answer to give her.
We all hope that we will never have to see a grim officer in a green uniform walking up to our doorsteps, so we choose not to think about those terrible moments. But if that knock on the door must arrive, it should also come for women whose life partners perished, whether or not they held the legal classification of “married.” In this country, our army is, by design, composed of young people. Many of them deeply love their partners yet simply never reached the age at which they wanted to marry. And in this modern world, more and more young people push off marriage until later in their lives.
Just last month, following a two-year effort, we achieved a huge milestone. The IDF announced the creation of a new protocol for notifying women whose partners were killed. These women will receive a death notice from their boyfriend or fiancée’s commander, who will then accompany them to their home. If the girlfriend or fiancée is herself a soldier, she will be notified by her direct commander. These women will also be entitled to seven days off during Shiva, the seven initial days of mourning according to Jewish tradition. When going through some of the most challenging days of their lives, these women will be afforded dignity.
But our struggle is not yet over. At the beginning of the summer session, when the Knesset returns from recess, I plan to introduce a law regarding fiancées who do not live with their partners. Usually religious fiancées do not live together with their partner, therefore are not recognized as equivalent to common law spouses.
In the state of Israel, service in the army is mandatory for almost everybody. I view this as a great honor given to our young people. I also understand, though, that it is an immense challenge that forces young Israelis to come face-to-face with the horrors of war. Far too often in our nation’s short history, this means losing our young men and women in uniform. When we ask young Israelis to defend the Jewish state, we — their parents, teachers, and leaders — promise to honor them and support them. We fall short of this promise when we fail to provide adequate support to the people who love and support our soldiers, especially when those people must deal with the unfathomable loss of their partner.
This Yom HaZikaron, I remember the thousands of people who have lost their lives while serving the Jewish state. I am thinking of their families and the pain that never goes away. And I recommit myself to bringing dignity to women whose boyfriends and fiancées have fallen in battle. The Talmud teaches us that all Israelis are responsible for one another. Now more than ever, the state of Israel must stand by this promise.