Shani Weinmann Kay

My Guardian Soldier

One year ago I wrote an article recounting the incredible hand of G-d experience involving the grave of fighter pilot Zahara Levitov.

For those who have not read it, please do. For those who have not, I will elaborate. I was assigned her grave two years ago while studying in Israel for a gap year program. The following year, as a newly drafted IDF soldier, I took it upon myself to go to a empty grave so someone would be with them for the ceremony. I browsed the War of Independence section and found the name Zahara Levitov. The woman at the grave next to me told me her story and it hit me. I had stumbled upon her again. (Not really stumbled, that’s bad cemetery etiquette.)

As someone of devout faith who believes nothing is chance, I took it upon myself to become her מלווה or her guardian so to speak. So for the third Yom Hazikaron since my coming to this beautiful strip of desert, I found myself once again with my dear friend Zahara.

As I stood, a pilot came up behind me and asked if I had any connection to her so I told him about the happy non coincidence. He had been sent by the army because he was in the same job and same rank as she had been at the time of her death. The siren blared and all was silent.

During the ceremony I reflected on Zahara and Zahara alone. Yom Hazikaron is an overwhelming day and so I focused my attention on who was before me. I thought about how this is my last Memorial Day in uniform. How next year I’ll be a regular citizen and no one will call out חיילת (soldier) when they need to get my attention. I may wear a different uniform (no giveaways), but it won’t be that of the IDF.

Sometimes I don’t know why I am here and why I drafted, but today I know why. When Zahara fell, there was an empty hole left in the land of Israel. A hole that needed filling. It could have been anyone else in this role, but I chose to occupy the space. I came here to build a home and start a family and serve my country. For and in memory of Zahara and because, in a way, I am her. Or at least another aspect of her presence in this world.

After the ceremony was over, the pilot said my name. He asked if he could take my number to send to Zahara’s family so they could meet me and invite me to their family gathering in her honor.

An hour later, her niece called me and invited me to get together sometime and to tell my story to them. She thanked me for going every year and was happy to know someone had kept Zahara company. It’s an exciting thought knowing that there is more to our story together and I am excited to see where it goes.

In general, I have yet to discover a lot. I don’t yet know what the rest of my service will be, or where I’ll live or with whom l’ll build my home, but I guarantee that at least Zahara is not done throwing surprises my way.

About the Author
Shani Weinmann Kay was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in the Jewish community of Toco Hills. She attended Torah Day School of Atlanta and Yeshiva Atlanta before coming to Midreshet Harova and then joining the IDF. She is studying Dance and Psychology.
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