Our small shul in Jerusalem is comprised of a group of eclectic characters – but aren’t many shuls like that? One of our most memorable congregants is Benjie, an old time Israeli, who always greets his compatriots with a big smile, a good word, and a blessing.
This past Shabbat, Benjie arrived at shul 10 minutes before services were to begin. That being somewhat unusual for him, I raised a quizzical eyebrow in his direction. He told me that he had a ‘Yahrzeit’ (the anniversary, according to the Hebrew calendar, of the day of death of a loved one), and he didn’t want to miss saying even one Kaddish.
I asked if it was for his father, and he “no, my brother”. I asked “How many years ago did he die?”, and he answered “49”. Slowly a realization began to come to me, or as they say here in Israel “Nafal Li Asimon” (literally my token dropped, meaning it hit me, in reference to the coin used in Israeli payphones until the 1990’s), and I asked “He fell in the war? (the 1973 Yom Kippur War)”. He said “Yes”. I asked, “At the (Suez) Canal?”, and he answered “on the (Golan) Heights”. I asked “he was a ‘tankist’?”, and he answered “Yes, I’ll speak about him at the Kiddush”.
I don’t usually stay for a celebratory Kiddush after services (not wanting to over indulge), but this time I knew I would. My wife and I had spent a week this past summer touring the Golan Heights, driving across its vast plains and visiting places where great tank battles had taken place. I was well aware of the fact that the Israeli tank battalions, even though they were outnumbered 7 to 1 against the attacking Syrian forces. had valiantly been the bulwark of the defense that held the line and saved the country from being overrun by an army bent on its destruction.
At the Kiddush, Benjie recounted how his brother Gideon, then age 23, married with a pregnant wife, answered the alarm heard around the country on Yom Kippur afternoon, and raced with thousands of other reservists, to the front to defend our country. He reached the staging area up north, to find that the army was hastily trying to overcome confusion, inadequate supplies and preparation, while trying to put together some manner of defense in a short period of time. Gideon, a tank commander, was given a tank that he had not been trained on, and managed to round up a crew of those more experienced with the equipment to man it, as he would be commanding it from his seat above.
Gideon’s tank led a force up to the Golan Heights in support of the army regulars who were mostly being wiped out, but were still bravely holding on. The Israeli tanks had no night vision infrared equipment, and were at a disadvantage in any battles that took place after sundown. But Gideon and his fellow soldiers turned the tide of the battle. Sadly, Gideon’s tank was hit on the third night of battle, and Gideon was killed.
I think back to Gideon’s family, who lost their son, brother and husband in the prime of his life, and to the daughter who was born later, that never had the chance to know him. And I grieve for all the other young brave soldiers who died, and am saddened for the others who still live among us who suffered grave injuries in the war. I, who have only lived here 10 years, never endured what these families went through to make Israel the wonderful place it now is. I also admire the brave young men and women that I now see who are also answering the call to protect our nation from all harm.
And I wonder, how many more will have to fall in battle?
I remember a quote of Golda Meir’s “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us”.
Isn’t it time already that we ALL love our children enough to make war a relic of the past?