Olah since 2006
Sometimes it is best when music has no words. Just the simple melody. The music we call “Classical Music” today was “en vogue” for hundreds of years before Rock n’ Roll. I learned how to play Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart on the violin, as a child. And, I encouraged my children to learn an instrument, as well. Each of them chose an instrument of interest. Several chose piano, one chose guitar, and one chose the trumpet.
Of course, none of us are concert pianists, violinists, guitar mavens, or Jazz musicians. Yet, we all learned valuable skills from the discipline of practicing an instrument, reading music, and understanding the timing of a piece. All of us think fondly of our recitals, performances, and the feeling of satisfaction after learning a particularly difficult piece of music.
My parents tell the story of a very long recital in which my sister and I were performing. At least 150 students were performing. We all were seated on the side of the stage to await our turn to perform. My sister was 6 years old at the time. She had practiced her piece to perfection at home. She eagerly awaited her turn, but the performances were behind schedule. She became tired and fell asleep in her chair. When it was her turn, she was awakened by her teacher. She walked up to the piano and played her piece perfectly. Then, she returned to her seat, happy to return to her nap in her small chair alongside her fellow music students. My parents were in awe of my sister’s ability to perform in such a state. But, my sister scoffed at them and told them “But, I practiced, and knew it perfectly…so I did what I had practiced. I knew it.”
Last week, our staff was informed of the passing of Sgt. First Class (res.) Amichai Yehoshua Yisrael Oster. He was in the 5th Brigade of the 7020th Battalion. He was killed in Northern Gaza, and several others were injured. Amichai’s family made aliyah from Cleveland, Ohio. They were a Zionist family, who were eager to raise their family in the State of Israel. They raised five children in a small Yishuv in the Shomron region. The kids had an idyllic life of Youth Movement involvement, exploring their local Nature Reserves, and being carefree kids.
Amichai had finished his army service and bought a car to travel around America and Canada so he could have his post-army trip of exploring beautiful vistas. He traveled to several U.S. states, including idyllic Utah. When October 7th happened, he decided that he needed to cut his trip short and report for duty. He traveled to Israel and reached out to the army. They eagerly placed him in his Batallion. He served in Gaza, with a sense of purpose and grace.
Amichai’s sister, Emuna, teaches at Amit Hallel High School in Rehovot. She was teaching when her family was frantically trying to reach her.
Suddenly, two soldiers arrived at the office of the principal, Miri Gil. She immediately recognized one of the soldiers, she was a former student at the High School. The Principal held her breath, as the soldiers told her who they were trying to contact. She knew so many teachers and students have brothers, fathers, uncles and cousins enlisted in the army. The list of those staff members and students flashed before her eyes.
Immediately, the soldiers informed her that they were looking for a teacher named Emuna Oster Cohen. Miri was quick on her feet and she asked the former student if the soldiers could go wait in the bathroom while they waited for Emuna to come downstairs to the office. One look towards her fellow officer, and a quick comment of “I know Principal Miri Gil, she knows this is the right way to inform this family member,” was all it took to convince the accompanying officer to heed the principal’s request.
The principal had Emuna’s father on the phone line, so he could be the one to tell her of the tragic news before the soldiers did so. This eased the weight of the news. And, then the soldiers were ushered in, to again discuss the grave situation with Emuna and her father, who was on the open phone line, as well.
The teachers were told of the tragedy late in the evening and were informed that there would be a special Tefilah (prayer service) and Tehilim, followed by Hafrashat Challah. I got to school and gathered my students to go to the Tefilah. When I entered the Bet Midrash, four other teachers were there. None of them wanted to lead the Tefillah, so they asked me. “I am going to lead the Tefillah like an American, with different tunes”, I said. “So what?” another teacher said, and so I got up to lead the prayers. And, as I did so, I was overcome by emotion. The loss of someone in such close proximity to all of us was difficult to bear.
After the Tefilah, both the principal and another Home Room teacher spoke about the importance of prayer at these times. This was then followed by the Hafrashat Challah. My friend Efrat said the bracha, and we all said the names of the soldiers for whom we were praying. Tears dropped down my cheeks, as I thought of family members and friends affected by the trauma of loss and suffering from this war.
The following day, I drove to the funeral of Amichai Oster, along with our principal, Miri Gil, and another staff member. The drive towards the Karnei Shomron Cemetery was idyllic. The beautiful vistas of the Shomron were in their splendor…green and lush flaura and fauna sprinkled throughout the hills.
As we walked towards the funeral, we saw hundreds of people gathering. In the crowd, we each saw random other mourners who were also connected to the Oster family. Families from Cleveland, office members from Dr. Oster’s practice at Ichilov, colleagues of Mrs. Oster from Ynet, Bnai Akiva friends, Case Western colleagues, Columbia University graduates, and some of the hometown local neighbors who were also touched by the Oster family in one way or another. Thousands of people attended the funeral.
Tears flowed as family members spoke of Amichai’s various accomplishments, and his ability to enjoy life to its fullest. He was a true friend to many and an inspiration to all.
The most poignant eulogy was that of his Commander, G. G stated that Amichai joined his platoon after hearing of the October 7th Black Sabbath while traveling in America and Canada. He immediately cut his trip short and enlisted in the Reserves. While Amichai was not placed in his original platoon, he gladly joined the unit with alacrity and purpose.
Amichai became an inspiration to the group. He would have late-night discussions in which he, as a religious Zionist Jew, would have deep conversations with his fellow platoon members about life during the War of Iron Swords, and after the war. As his Commander said in his eulogy:
“Amichai, my brother….you gave us all so much positive energy during this war…You were passionate about saying that we will ALL live together after this war…You, with the large kippah from Karnei Shomron, and me the non-religious central Tel-Aviv resident were very close and very similar. I am so glad that I got to know you. You told tales of your trips…You would sing songs with your guitar entirely with your whole heart and soul…You were naturally connected to others, and you were a natural gentleman in every way…You were given the Commander’s Honor of Distinction last week, and you deserved it. You did everything from your great heart…You gave everything with your strength. You made me feel as if I could count on you for everything, and you were a true leader. You always loved to “hold up the back” of the platoon,…You spoke of starting a new political party, called Miflaga Shalosh [sic: named after his platoon]. It was going to be a party in which all of us could accept each other, work together, understand each other, and find acceptance of each other. Thank you for your understanding. Thank you for standing up for yourself. Thank you for being Amichai Oster….I loved you, and always will, my brother.”
After this speech, there was not a dry eye in the crowd. How entirely moving…to hear of the dynamic in which Amichai’s soul touched others in ways in which they will never forget. He was not just a fellow comrade, he was a brother to them. And, he will always be remembered as such.
I left the funeral with my colleagues and then drove home. When I arrived, I locked myself in my room and cried…I cried for Amichai and his fellow wounded platoon members. I cried for my friend and her family who were mourning the loss. And, I cried mourning the loss of this bright star, this ray of light…and to many who basked in his brightness.
There are no songs that describe the profound emotions that are suffered from the loss of a loved one. Thus, it was hard for me to write this tribute. And alas, I found it in a short clip of a concert by Concert Pianist Kevin Chen. Chen opened his Carnegie Hall concert with his rendition of Hatikvah. As he played the melody, the Jewish and Israeli patrons in the audience burst out in song, accompanying this master maestro. It was a beautiful moment. A tribute to the current War, the loss, but the hope that Israel continues to live, breathe, and survive. Amichai, whose name means “My Nation Lives” would have loved this. I am sure he is listening from above.