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Bar Falah, of blessed memory, was the soldier on our Birthright trip

The officer killed last week was truly a sabra: tough and confident, full of compassion and eager to share a laugh. It is an honor to have known him
Bar Falah in February 2022, during our Birthright trip. (Levi Clancy)

Last February, we — a group of 20- and 30-something American Jews — visited Israel on Birthright. For a handful of those days, a few Israelis our own age became a part of our traveling family. Most had completed their military service and were either working or in university. One had chosen a military career as an officer in the Nahal Brigade. His name was Bar Falah, and he was killed in action last week.

In the early morning hours, Bar was leading an operation to arrest two suspected Palestinian terrorists. As IDF troops moved in to make the arrest, and with Bar leading the way, the terrorists opened fire and Bar was killed in the gun battle.

We knew Bar was a soldier, but we had the good fortune to get to know Bar, the caring, big-hearted man. When we first met him on a chilly Jerusalem morning, he arrived at our hotel in uniform looking somber and imposing. Broad and muscular, it was clear that a warrior stood before us. It didn’t take long for his serious exterior to give way to a young man with a big smile and big sense of humor.

Eric: “I was his roommate. And on maybe our second morning together, I knocked on the door to let him know it was time to leave. He opened the door wearing nothing and with a toothbrush hanging from his mouth. Without breaking eye contact, he calmly said to me, “OK.” Under that imposing uniform was a funny, goofy guy who liked to make people laugh.”

Brooke: “Bar had soul-piercing eyes and a quick smile. We shared a halloumi salad over lunch one day, and he kept telling me to eat more because if I was at his mother’s house, she would be disappointed if I didn’t ask for seconds. I’d known him a day, but he already saw me as a part of his family.”

Jessica: “Bar was central to my Israel experience, by my side as we went from place-to-place learning about Israel. Along the way, he taught me about duty and honor. I was shocked when I learned you died a hero. Thank you for the lessons. More than ever, I feel proud to be Jewish and a Zionist.”

Bar making a note on the reading he delivered to our Birthright group at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, February 2022 (Levi Clancy)

Joining our Birthright group pushed Bar out of his comfort zone. Self-conscious about his English, he was uncharacteristically timid when speaking in front of the group. Even so, he made a point to stand before us at Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust) and read aloud a poem he had written on a trip to Poland to learn about the Holocaust. During that trip, he had stood before a mass grave in Zbylitowska Góra, where 800 Jewish children were buried, and thought about his nephew, whom he loved deeply, and how he would feel if that beloved child was murdered. The experience shook him to the core, and he made a vow that became the concluding lines of a poem he read to us at Yad Vashem:

“That day I swore to myself, on my body, until my last breath. The Jewish people will never go through this again. Not while the IDF is ready. Not while I’m here.”

Marissa: “This big, strong fighter showed us the depth of his compassion and caring.  He was brave in sharing his vulnerability with a group of strangers, and his openness was inspiring. He loved his people so much and was dedicated to protecting them.”

Xandy: “I remember when we visited Yad Vashem and listened to Bar read his poem outside the Children’s Memorial. I was overwhelmed with emotion listening to his heartfelt words. When we went to Mount Herzl (Israel’s national cemetery), his words echoed in my mind and helped me better understood all the men and women who laid down their lives for their country.”

Bar lived and died by that vow. Even when we knew him, it seemed as though a part of him was always standing guard. He frequently stepped away from our group to speak with his soldiers. They were constantly on his mind, especially since they were in the field while he was with us.

Mike: “Jews are often depicted as being frail and weak. Bar was the antithesis of that stereotype. He was a product and symbol of the State of Israel — strong, confident, resolute, unafraid of confrontation, but eager to make friends and share laughter. His rugged exterior concealed a gentle nature. He was the very embodiment of the Israeli sabra — sweet on the inside and made tough by necessity on the outside.”

Bar speaking to our Birthright group at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, February 2022 (Levi Clancy)

Andrew: “Bar lived the most dangerous life of anybody I have personally ever known. The intense danger and extreme physicality of his job combined with his light and upbeat attitude made him remarkable. He believed in what he was fighting for with every fiber of his being.”

Bar exuded love for Israel and the Jewish people. He believed that a secure Jewish state is more precious than a single life and demanded real personal sacrifice. Bar assumed the burden of that responsibility on his own shoulders and paid the price.

Rest in peace, sweet friend. You were a beloved son, courageous brother in arms, and devoted friend. Our hearts ache for your family and everyone who knew and loved you. We feel honored to have had you in our lives. Thank you for sharing your big heart with us.

About the Author
Aviva Klompas is co-founder of Boundless and former speechwriter for Israel's delegation to the United Nations.
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