Yaakov Selavan

And then the flag went back up…

Tel Saki Memorial on the Syrian Border. Photo: Yehuda Weinberg

1973 is Blowing in the Wind

It was a day after I was discharged from a decade of IDF combat service. I spent my first afternoon as a free man on…an IDF tour. I couldn’t resist, as a 1973 War veteran guided my unit’s officers; just a few minutes away from home.

Coming out of a long service, I thought my work plan was set – give strategic briefings about Israel’s borders and the IDF’s challenges in protecting them. And then came that tour of Tel Saki on August 30, 2016.

When the Yom Kippur War broke out on October 6, 1973,  a handful of tanks and several paratroopers protected the southern Golan Heights, and slowed the Syrian invasion back for hours. Dozens of fighters were killed, while 28 survivors hid in this tiny bunker surrounded by Syrians, until rescued more than 30 hours later. Quite a few extraordinary stories occurred in those moments, and every time I meet a battle veteran on site I learn another one. This first-hand account gripped me and has never let go.

Following this moving experience I started bringing groups to the little hilltop looking straight into Syria. Thousands of visitors later I am still amazed how deeply this particular Yom Kippur War story inspires the young and elderly, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Tel Saki Monument, Southern Golan. (Yogev Berger)
Besides the actual fortifications, battle scars and tank, the huge Israeli flag makes a deep impression. Mounted on a 25-meter-high flagpole and visible into Syria, the flag and adjacent monument were gifted by the Tel Saki Fighters’ Friendship and Heritage Foundation. They renew it yearly on October 8, the day they were liberated from that bunker.

As my workload increased and I found myself there almost every day, at times even morning to night, I became more and more attached to this heroic story. Strong personal connections developed between the battle veterans and myself, the young man born long after the war.

In early June the flag was so ripped by powerful winds that it was taken down.

Knowing there was no repair budget, sometime later I took it to a tailor, who charged me $100 for repairs.

The next morning, as I shared the flag story with another group, an 80-year old Christian approached me. “I was so moved by the story, here is my small contribution” – he handed me…$100.

I was so excited with the resewn flag ready to fly again that I invited a visiting St. Louis delegation to raise it.

They were so enthusiastic; the flag moved up the rope – but then…it got stuck halfway. A quick glance identified the problem – screws and cables were loose at the mast top (again, 25-meters high), blocking the flag’s path up to the masthead.

Now I was helpless. The army, regional council, electricity company and others all confirmed – no crane reaching 25 meters was in the Golan Heights.

I did not despair, but with an overbooked high-season schedule I admit it wasn’t my top priority.

Only that every few days I got calls and messages on my phone from Dan, chairman of the Fighter’s Foundation, now living in Florida, USA.

“Yaakov, What about the flag?!”

“Dan, I’m really trying, I haven’t found a way yet!”

“Yaakov, I just got a picture from a friend – the flag is still down!”

“Dan, I’m doing my best.”

After 2 weeks of this, I couldn’t help but say to Dan, “Listen, I’m really trying, but I thought about it and there is a positive side here – every torn flag (and the mound has high winds) is worth thousands of shekels – every day the flag is down is a day the flag doesn’t rip – we save some money! ”

What Dan answered me I will never forget:

“Yaakov, after everything we experienced in the war – we chose life, we chose continuity. We all live happy lives with our growing families and grandchildren – that’s our message! Continuity, moving forward, life! I can’t sleep peacefully at night knowing that each day one – one! – visitor might come to the site and take with him a message of death, because there is no flag and then only the pictures of the fallen on the monument remain.

Alongside the tribute to the fallen, our message is that despite everything the people of Israel are alive, there is a continuity. The purpose of this site is to instill the values that our friends lived and acted for into the next generation! ”

I no longer had any answers.

Posting help requests all over social media got Facebook responses within minutes from all sorts of people trying to help.

The next day, I head to the mound with a group of US students, and explain to them: “Behind me there is a huge mast. Usually there is a flag up, but there is a problem at the mast –

“Yaakov,” they interrupted me, “What’s currently on the mast is a man!”

I turned around in shock, and there was a guy using ropes, climbing slowly and carefully. He had seen the message and decided to take on the challenge. As he climbed step by step, his wife watched, shaking, reading Psalms and praying.

An hour later he solved the problem and we immediately put the flag back up, with Dan watching live from Florida.

His determination won, once again.

* * *

As we approach the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, we mark 46 years since the war that changed Israel forever. I find a lot of parallels between the war’s lessons and the holy day:

Never be caught with excessive self-confidence. Don’t underestimate your opponents and challenges. Constantly learn from successes and failures to improve. Seek constant criticism. And it is a one-on-one responsibility, from the leaders to the last civilian or soldier, not to close our eyes and wish, but to look with both eyes open into reality.

And as the Tel Saki fighters  teach us – you can fall, you can undergo pain and sorrow – but then, you must keep on moving forward, and choose life!

Their answer is blowin’ in the wind

Dedicated with love to the brave Yom Kippur War fighters, present and in the next world; their souls still in the battlefields and their hearts still burning in the flames of war.

Tel Saki is located on the Southern Golan Heights, near the Syrian-Israeli border, off of Highway 98.

To read and view more about this battle:

The Friendship and Heritage Foundation

“The Battle Over the Soul” Film

Tel Saki Battle with Capt. Selavan – Land of the Bible, Dailystar 

Tel Saki. (Yogev Cohen)
About the Author
Major (Res.) Yaakov Selavan is a strategic affairs expert and IDF motivational speaker for soldiers and draftees. He is a social activist invloved in several NGOs. A Golan resident and an IDF Tactical Command College alumnus, Major (Res.) Selavan is a popular speaker in Israel and abroad and a leading Golan international spokesperson. Through Slingshot Israel, he draws upon military experiences to instill values and encourage social action.
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