Asi was a ray of sunshine in my army unit. That’s what I’ll always remember about him. He always had a big smile on his face and brought positive vibes. No matter the situation, he made other people around him laugh. He spread his light to others, finding joy and humor even in challenging moments. He loved music and basketball. Like me, he had siblings who were much older than him and was the adored baby of the family. We both hated sitting still and yearned to move.
We were good friends. I remember how he was an incredible person who was always there to replace you under the stretcher or carry the water tank right before you needed a switch.
He knew how to be serious, and when he needed to buckle down. He had a tough position as a sniper and took it seriously and sincerely. He pulled his fair share and he was a loyal brother soldier. He was always there to put his hand on the back of a fellow soldier to show his support.
I could never have imagined I would be writing this article. My dream had finally come true. I was at Wingate, doing the Krav Maga instructor course, I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. Then I received the horrific news from a friend. Asaf was gone.
I was in shock. It was surreal, like a terrible nightmare. We were soldiers. We knew some of us might not come back when battling terrorists, but what had taken Asaf from us was something we never saw coming. He had taken his own precious life. My cheery sunny friend had been hiding the struggle and battle with his demons. He didn’t confide in others, he didn’t want to burden us. I cried, completely bereft.
His funeral in Netanya’s military ceremony was one of the most painful and sad moments I ever experienced in my life. We, his band of brothers, gathered around his casket, crying bitterly as we buried him. We all wondered how we could have done better. Could we have prevented this terrible tragedy?
Sadly, suicide among combat veterans has risen. In 2022, 14 precious heroes of Israel ended their lives. That’s almost five times the amount killed by the enemy. It’s unacceptable and it thrives only in silence. Combat soldiers face terrible struggles, but due to their nature, they keep fighting to keep it inside, and not to burden others. They are people who seek to serve and never to be served. They do not easily take to show weakness or bring others down. They take on pain and suffering, even if it kills them, to save others.
We as a society need to make it clear, we love and support them. We need them to know the strongest thing they can do is ask for help. That’s why I am undertaking this fundraiser.
October 7th would have been his thirty-third birthday. To honor him this month, I decided to take on a charity challenge in his honor, and in honor of all the combat veterans who suffer in silence. My goal is to support causes that prevent more cases like my brother- Assaf (Asi) Shtemler Z”L
It’s the only birthday present I can offer my lost friend, but I know it’s the one he would have wanted most. Asi lived his life to bring sunshine to others, and my goal is to bring that sunshine to those who need it most.