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Voices We have lost

Go south to celebrate Israel’s independence

A 2019 essay by a fallen soldier: When fellow Israelis were hiding from rockets just a few days ago, partying doesn't feel right
Zechariah Pesach Haber z"l, his wife, Talia, and their child, on Israel Independence Day, in 2019. (courtesy)
Zechariah Pesach Haber z"l, his wife, Talia, and their child, on Israel Independence Day, in 2019. (courtesy)

The piece below was written in 2019. Its author, Zechariah Pesach Haber, was killed in action in Gaza on January 16, 2024.

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The contrast between Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) is hard every year, but this year [2019] seems to be especially hard. It is true that the south has been showered with rockets, kites, and balloons for many years, so why do I feel this year is different? I think the only difference is the timing. Celebrating as the safest and strongest country in the Middle East (and more) on Thursday, when helpless people were hiding from rockets on Sunday, seems too much for me. This year it will be very difficult for me to celebrate.

So we shouldn’t celebrate this year? No, of course we should! This year, as every other year, I plan on wearing blue and white, praying and saying Hallel (prayer) with a blessing and I wouldn’t say no to a good barbecue and a good tiyul (hike). So what do I suggest? This year, in my opinion, it is also important to go down south this Yom HaAtzmaut. Unfortunately, you don’t need to go as far as “Otef Aza” (the Gaza envelope) to show solidarity (not that their situation doesn’t render solidarity in itself). Even if you only go down to Ashkelon or Ashdod, you will reach places that were bombarded with rockets three days ago and that people have died there because of rockets.

The idea is simple: you wanted to barbecue on the beach in Tel Aviv? Barbecue on the beach of Ashkelon. You want to hike around Beit Shemesh, Nahal Alexander, or the Dead Sea? Hike around Eshkol Park, Nitzana or Chevel Lachish? You planned on going out in Modiin? Do the same instead in Be’er Sheva. You want to see the planes flying over in Jerusalem? See the same planes flying over Kiryat Gat… even for a small piece of the day, just to show the south that we haven’t abandoned them. That even if they’re not the headlines, we still remember them. It is true that most of us don’t have the time around the year to show our support to the south because of our jobs and families, but this year we have the opportunity to take the day off, most of us have, anyway, and turn it into something a little more meaningful (without ruining the fun and entertainment too much).

I’m not saying that whoever doesn’t do so is abandoning the south and I’m have no grievance with anyone, but just some food for thought… It’s true that we believe that the fallen of Yom HaZikaron want us to, as though, “forget” them when we carry on to Yom HaAtzmaut, but I’m not sure the south wants us to do the same with them, as they are alive and still suffering from the ongoing war. It’s time to give our independence to the south.

Miriam Haber, mother of Zechariah Pesach Haber, writes: 

Our beloved son, Zechariah Haber z”l, was exceptionally kind, humble, curious, brilliant, optimistic and hardworking. With a perpetual, genuine smile, he was incredibly devoted to his wife and children, and always put his family first (including his parents and brothers and more extended family). He was deeply connected to nature, and to the land, state and people of Israel, and strongly believed in religious Zionism and living in Israel. Those passions led him to research wheat in order to increase Israeli, and global, wheat production, and led him to serve bravely in reserve duty from October 7th until his tragic death in Gaza on January 16, 2024.

For many years, he was deeply troubled by the fact the Israelis living in Southern Israel were expected to “absorb” rocket fire and that children growing up in the South were growing up in fear and running to safe rooms (if they had time to do so). From 2019 onward, when he wrote the above, he and his wife Talia adopted the practice of visiting the south on Yom HaAtzmaut.

In his memory and honor, we ask that you do so this year and would love for you to share pictures with us. If you would like to learn more about Zechariah, please visit his memorial website, www.zechariahhaber.com,  and if you knew Zechariah please do share your memories of him on the website.

About the Author
Zechariah Pesach Haber z"l was born in New York and made aliyah with his family in 1999 when he was 8 years old. The oldest of 4 brothers, he learned in the Hesder program at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut (the Gush). As part of that program, he served in the IDF Tanks Corps, as a tank commander. Upon returning to yeshiva following his army service, he authored a talmudic encyclopedia (unbeknownst to his family), which Gush is currently working on publishing, and he continued learning and teaching Torah throughout his life. Zechariah loved nature and science and earned a BA and MA at Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot. Zechariah was close to finishing his PhD at Tel Aviv University's Plant Science and Food Security Department, focusing on growing wheat in drought conditions, when he was called up for reserve duty on October 8th, 2023. He served bravely as a tank loader in Gaza until he was killed at the age of 32 (along with tank driver Yair Katz z"l), when an anti-tank missile hit their tank. He left behind his wife, Talia, three children (ages 5, 3, and 1), parents, brothers, his extended family, and many friends. May his memory be a blessing.
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