They serve. In the cold, in the heat, in the rain. They serve. As a human wall standing strong against the hostile hoards that would drive us all into the sea, they serve. Yet, for all their valour, all their strut and bluster and well-tempered courage, they are but men: flesh and blood, not stone and steel.
So today Corporal Viacheslav Gargay, of the Golani brigade, was laid to rest. Slav, as his friends called him, belonged to that fraternity of soldiers, known as Golanis: The most blue-collared, rough-necked, calloused-handed, indecorous, contumelious infantry in the entire IDF. But even these hardened soldiers can be laid low by the errant strike of a twenty-pound sledge. A slip while driving home a steel bolt into the tread of an armored personnel carrier–accidents happen. And so Slav, bone, not iron, died this week.
His mother, shaken to the core, cried out not to face his burial alone. For Tanya and her son Slav had made aliya from the Ukraine. She had no family here to hold her while they buried her only son. Hundreds heard her call and came, knowing that, flesh of our Israeli flesh, Slav deserved no less.
And the oddest thing, watching his military funeral, was seeing IDF Corporal Viacheslav Gargay accorded his last rites by the Orthodox Church. Slav was a Christian, not a Jew. But his oak-tree decorated comrades stood shoulder to shoulder, as an honor guard capping off his priest’s incense and prayers with a twenty-one gun salute. Black-skinned Ethiopians stood at attention together with red-bearded yeshiva graduates. They came to bury Slav, just as they would have come to fight alongside him.
We Israelis are made of flesh and blood. But inside us there is iron. Just as within Tanya and Slav, there was Jewish heritage enough (one grandparent at least, I learned) to feel the magnetic pull of our homeland calling them from the far Ukraine. And now this young combat-ready corporal, trained to risk his life against our vicious enemies, has done what even Moses failed to accomplish. Surrounded by his brothers-in-arms and two thousand more, Slav has reached the Promised Land.