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Betsalel Steinhart
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‘Hutar le-pirsum’: A lesson in Israeli society

Everyone knows this prelude to the gut-punch of knowing a soldier killed in the line of duty, no matter how distantly; it's a small country
Today's fallen soldiers: L to R: Lt. Yaron Eliezer Chitiz; Staff Sgt. Itay Buton; Staff Sgt. Efraim Jackman, on December 27, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces, via The Times of Israel)
Today's fallen soldiers: L to R: Lt. Yaron Eliezer Chitiz; Staff Sgt. Itay Buton; Staff Sgt. Efraim Jackman, on December 27, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces, via The Times of Israel)

This is not going to be a long blog post.

This could even just be a short Hebrew lesson.

I am assuming that many readers of The Times of Israel are not fluent in Hebrew, and therefore I want you to internalize two critical Hebrew words that have come to define this ongoing conflict for so many Israelis.

They are the words we dread.

They are the first words we look for on our phones as soon as we get up.

They are the words on the radio that make our hearts stop, the first words of the hourly news bulletin.

The words are “hutar le-pirsum” – הותר לפרסום.

Literally: It has been cleared for publication… that the following soldiers fell in battle.

These words are then followed by at least one name, and generally more than one: the names of those who fell in battle over the previous day or so.

Hutar le-pirsum — it has been cleared for publication… but it means so much more. It goes so much deeper than that.

What it really means is that for those soldiers, the army — which, remember, is in a state of war — has managed (with its unit that is responsible for this, but which has been at breaking point recently) to reach all their nearest of kin. This makes sure that that the families will find out the tragic news from the army in a thoughtful and sensitive manner, and not from rumors or social media, that their loved one has been killed in action.

This is no mean feat, and in today’s fast-paced online world, rumors travel very fast and the army has to act very quickly to track down those who are first-degree relatives, and also allow them time to tell the second “level” of friends and relatives, so that they don’t find out from the media either.

However, no matter how many people are told beforehand, it is impossible to tell everyone the soldier or their families have ever met, and sadly, when reading those words, they are often followed by the gut-punch of it being someone you did know. It is, after all, a small country.

It is likely that you didn’t know them very well: maybe a vague acquaintance, the child of a coworker, the person who sat 10 rows behind you at synagogue, the son of a person who went to high school with your spouse, the person who you once had an interaction with, one of tens of thousands throughout your life… the examples are endless. Maybe you didn’t even realize it at first glance that you knew them, and only after a specific WhatsApp group was flooded with messages did you connect the dots. It is rare that a day or two goes by and you don’t see some sort of personal reaction on the endless feed of social media, that someone you know knew a soldier who was killed.

Hutar le-pirsum: as you read those words and the ensuing list with bleary eyes, you focus on the familiar names and try and remember who they are, what they did, and what memory you have of them.

Those words cut so deep; even if you don’t know any of that day’s victims, there is no accompanying feeling of relief. These were more precious lives of our finest sons, daughters, husbands, wives, all who were willing to put their lives on the line in the face of a vicious enemy, murdered in a war that could not possibly be more justified… yet it hurts so much.  There is the guilt that so many other fellow Israelis are being effected as these headlines hit, so many tears will be shed, and so many lives shattered while you go about your day. The daily grind of this adds a deep and impenetrable layer to the sadness, to the despair that is always threatening to engulf you, that makes it a challenge to stay positive — something that is critical to do.

Yes, we are strong, and yes, we have trust that Hashem is with us, that we will win this, and yes, Am Yisrael Chai.

But I could do without seeing those words, hutar le-pirsum, ever again.

About the Author
Betsalel Steinhart is a Licensed Tour Guide, and the Director of the Ramah Israel Institute for Ramah Israel. He lives in Bet Shemesh with his wife and five children.
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