The first time I met my friend Reuven was at my wedding 38 years ago. I had never met him before then, and neither had my wife. At that time, I was heavily involved in a Zionist youth movement (I was 21 when I got married, so by some standards, a youth). The representative from the Jewish Agency who worked with our group called a few days before and asked if he could bring Reuven. He explained that Reuven had just started working for the Jewish Agency and was to be setting up groups on college campuses around the USA. Although Reuven came to the USA without a suit or dress shoes, a suitable outfit was put together.
Reuven quickly became part of our group of friends. We taught him English, and he taught us how to toast in Hebrew. “לתפארת מדינת ישראל” (Glory to the State of Israel) became a common refrain when we would all get together. Reuven, being the adult in the room, declared himself the guard of the group. This meant he would guard us from getting drunk. The problem was that he usually got drunk before us. For some reason, that I am still not aware of, we would end the night singing “California Dreaming,” in our stupor.
Reuven is one of those rare people that always make wherever you are a happier and more fun place . It is a true gift. He is personable, and I have never really met anyone who didn’t like him. Even his ex-wife, also a very good friend of ours, is close with Reuven and his current wife. He is that type of guy.
Reuven remarried later in life and had twin boys when he was in his 40s. After that, his second wife was diagnosed with cancer. Although he was clearly shaken and scared, he was still the person that always brought a smile to my face.
While his wife was getting treatment, my daughter got married, and I invited him and his wife to attend. Although she was weak from the treatments, they decided to come. At 11:30, which is when Reuven usually starts his evenings, he informed me he had to go. His wife was feeling weak, and it was late for her. We said our goodbyes. As he was walking back to his car, the DJ put on “California Dreaming.” I will never forget the picture in my mind of Reuven running back to join us and sing. He and his wife ended up staying another two hours. The smiles never left their faces. He is the kind of friend that you know forever. The kind that you don’t see all the time but one that you know will always have your back if needed and will always leave you in a good mood.
Today I went to the funeral of his son, Omri. Omri was killed in Khan Yunis yesterday fighting Hamas terrorists. There are people here in Israel who make it their business to go to as many of the funerals of fallen soldiers as possible. It is not that they are ghoulish weirdos, but rather they want to make sure the family knows that they are not alone in their sorrow. I admire people like that, and I think what they do is admirable. I also know it is not something I can do. I do not have the emotional disposition.
I never thought I would have to go to one of these funerals. I am a numbers guy, and statistically the odds of a soldier getting killed are very low. Yet although we may not personally know the families, we feel each one. Every day we see the pictures of those killed in action with their names and ages. I never look at these because I know behind every picture is a broken family that will never be repaired. A family that made the ultimate sacrifice so my family and I can live here in peace and safety.
I did not know what to expect. There were hundreds of people there. We waited for about a half hour, and then an army honor guard came in with the body. The family followed. I saw Reuven and his wife. There was no expression at all. My friend, who always had a smile on his face, looked broken. He had aged a million years.
The eulogies started. First was a childhood friend, followed by another. They spoke about Omri and how everyone was his friend. They described a person who to me sounded a lot like his father. Slowly, the color had come back to Reuven’s face. As the boys spoke, sometimes bringing up funny moments in their lives with Omri, you could see that some of the pain was lifting. It is very hard to speak at a friend’s funeral when you are young, I know; I had to do it when I was 30. All the good memories cannot make up for the pain of the moment. When the boys finished, Reuven got up. I thought that perhaps it was too much for him to endure, but instead of leaving or breaking down, he went over to comfort and thank Omri’s friend who had spoken.
That is who my friend Reuven is.
There were many eulogies that followed. Friends from grade school, high school, the army, and university. Then his girlfriend of five years got up to speak. I am not fluent in Hebrew and did not catch everything she said, but it was clear to me that in his short life, Omri knew true love. He was a man who made a positive impact on everyone he met, and when duty called, gave his life for his country.
In honor of Omri, “לתפארת מדינת ישראל.”