Ezra and Shua – A Yom HaZikaron Story
When they first crossed paths, Ezra Halevy was 19 and Yeshua (“Shua”) Schwartz was 20. They are both in Hativat HaTzanchanim, the Paratroopers Brigade of the IDF.
Ezra was born in Rehovot. As a boy, his family moved to Ramla. Ezra grew up as a first-generation Israeli from a Sephardic family. He is the third of seven children and the only boy.
Shua was born in the Old City of Jerusalem, also as a first-generation Israeli. His mother is American and father Canadian. When Shua was 13, his family moved to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia. Shua and his twin brother Moshe are the youngest of seven children.
The young men had similar educations. Ezra went to a yeshiva in Ramla, then Yeshviat HaDarom in Rehovot for five years before joining the IDF. Shua graduated from the Jerusalem Toarah Academy prior to his service.
And while both young men proudly, heroically served in the Tzanchanim, Shua entered the IDF 48 years after Ezra. But the way their lives fused will permanently remain with Shua.
On April 14, 2021, Israel observed Yom HaZikaron, the remembrance day for Israel’s 23,816 fallen soldiers. The Tzanchanim (and other IDF divisions) have a beautiful custom of assigning an active soldier to visit the grave of every fallen member of their brigade. A few days before Yom HaZikaron, soldiers are given the name of a fallen soldier, a map illustrating the location of their grave, and a website to learn about their fallen brother or sister. Shua was given Ezra Halevy, buried in Har Herzl in Jerusalem.
Before leaving to visit Ezra, he learned all he could about him. Ezra was in the IDF for just eleven months when the Yom Kippur war broke out. When fighting commenced, Ezra’s unit was quickly dispatched to the Sinai, where he was killed in battle on the 12th of Tishrei (October 8, 1973), the third day of fighting.
Shua arrived at Ezra’s grave at 9:00 am on Yom HaZikaron, along with two friends from his unit, to pay their respects and remember their fallen brother. Since Ezra was killed 48 years ago, they did not expect to meet family members so many years later. They were mistaken.
The first to arrive was a niece. She never met her uncle, but shared stories about Ezra with the three young soldiers. She said they lost her grandmother, Ezra’s mother, to Covid this year. Before Covid and her passing, Ezra’s mother never missed a visit to his grave on Yom HaZikaron.
After the niece left, several of Ezra’s sisters, nieces and nephews visited. Shua and his friends were moved to see the outpouring of love and devotion nearly a half century after Ezra’s passing, and the family was profoundly touched to see the nation, through these three young soldiers as ambassadors, remembering Ezra.
The family shared more stories about Ezra. He was not tall, but a good athlete and enjoyed sports. He liked going on trips with his friends. Ezra had an unrivaled passion for Jerusalem and love of Israel. He hoped to be a career soldier and was scheduled to take a course to become a sergeant in November 1973. He was energetic, funny and loved life. He had a true simchas ha’chaim. And being the only boy with six sisters, he was the prince of the family.
The sisters saw him last the morning of Yom Kippur, 1973. They watched him leave for shul that morning. When the air raid sirens went off early that afternoon, Ezra ran home to get his gear and rushed to his base. He never had an opportunity to say goodbye to his family.
Ezra’s sisters, nieces and nephews shared wonderful memories with the three young soldiers. After several hours, they had a hard time saying their goodbyes. They exchanged phone numbers and the young soldiers were invited to spend Shabbat with the family. Next year, they will visit Ezra together, as an extended family.
I asked Shua, my nephew, how this experience has impacted him. He said it was the most moving experience of his life, and even though his army service will be completed by next year, he looks forward to his reunion with the Halevy family and remembering Ezra.
To all those who risk their lives protecting Israel, to the families who watch their children and siblings leave home to serve, to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we are humbled by your courage, tremendously appreciative and in awe.