Mira Neshama Weil

The first Yom HaZikaron After October 7

Photos of humans who fell since October 7 defending Israel

When you die,

something of you, within me,

will die with you.

These words come from a song sung during an evening ceremony of Yom HaZikaron, performed nearly a decade ago by two Israeli singers, one secular and one charedi, Abraham Tal and Yonatan Rrazel, at Kikar Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, before an audience of mourning families and Israelis.

Every year, before celebrating its Independence, Israel observes a day of mourning.

Yom HaZikaron, the “Day of Remembrance,” is a time for the entire nation to cry for those who gave their lives so that the Jewish homeland could continue to exist, despite the constant attacks it has faced since 1948.

For many Israeli families, mourning is not abstract. That grave there, was the grandfather, the uncle, the father, the niece, the cousin, the brother, the friend, the lover. 

Almost everyone left someone behind, a roomate, a family member, a love gone too soon, and the absurdity of why, and the injustice of not having a choice, and we know that it could have been us.

For many Israelis, Yom HaZikaron is much more than a national commemoration.

But this year, remembering feels more like touching an open wound.

This Monday, Israel will mourn the largest number of its dead in a single day since the Holocaust, under the most atrocious conditions.

This year, the first Yom HaZikaron after October 7th, the ground is still fresh, the tears not yet dried, and, most painfully, the war still ongoing.

The dead have barely returned, in their still-clean tallit, to the great Unity, that others leave to replace them on battlefields, as the fighting intensifies now in Rafah, the last Hamas stronghold clinging like a parasite to its civilians while Israel tries to evacuate them, and keeps looking for its hostages.

Today, on this first Yom HaZikaron after October 7th, to honor some of those who died so that Jews can still have a country, I would like to invite us to remember a few of them.

They may be unknown to you, as they were to me until yesterday.

Today, I would like us to remember ten of them.

Ten, because it forms a minyan, the minimal human group to represent a collective, and to pray to God in the Jewish tradition.

I would like to remember with you today Sufian Dagash, Yosef Malachi Guedalia, Shir Eilat, Noam Abramovich, Elisha Yehonatan Lober, Shay Germay, Denis Kromhmakov Veksler, Cédric Garin, Yakir Hexter, and Oriya Goshen, may their memory be a blessing.

They were between 19 and 32 years old, men and women. 

They were black, white, brown, and yellow. They were Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Ethiopian, Jewish, Druze, Muslim, modern Orthodox, Haredi, settlers, secular, Ukrainian immigrants, Arabs, Filipino Christians.

I don’t know why, they were all beautiful.

They died so that all those who agree to live together in this imperfect country can continue to live safely, freely, in a society that, for all its problems, remains secular, democratic, respectful of Human rights, women rights, children rights, and above all, of Life.

They died on October 7th or in the months that followed, after yet another attempt to annihilate the Jewish state, while enthusiastic crowds around the world still shout for its eradication.

Sufian was 21 years old. He was Druze. He died in January. He is one of the thousands of Arabs, Druze, or Muslims who, despite what the kids in keffiyehs occupying campuses and shouting about genocide before going home to watch Netflix might think, fight alongside the country to which they belong, for the society they identify with, and which gives them the chance to build a better life.

Shir was 20 years old. In the photo of the military ceremony where she receives an honor, the radiant smile of a young brunette in a beret, her bun neatly coiled, pearls in her ears. She died on October 7th when Hamas took control of the military base near Gaza where she was an observer. The survivors who were with her in the control room recounted: “She remained calm until the end, caring for everyone, protecting them, calming them. She stepped aside and only worried about others.”

Yosef was 22 years old. He was a dati leumi Jew, a modern-Orthodox religious person. Fighting towards the end of his military service for the Douvdevan unit, he died on October 7th in the fighting to liberate Kfar Aza, one of the kibbutzim invaded by terrorists. His very young widow found his journal. On it, on the first page, as if he knew, Yosef speaks to us, for today, writing in Hebrew: “Yom haZikaron – the goal is not to cry over what happened, nor how heroic people were. But to understand that each of us has the ability and strength to do what they did. And they enlighten us to see how much strength we have.”

Noam died on October 7th in an outpost of Kibbutz Nahal Oz where she was an observer. She was 19 years old and had just started her military service. It was her second day. She was blonde, curly-haired, and her smile with blue eyes will forever be frozen in the innocent photo she didn’t know would be her last. In her last text to her mother, at 7 a.m., she said: “they’re speaking Arabic and shouting Allahu Akbar and it’s too scary. I love you no matter what happens.”

In the photo, Elisha Yehonatan has the long, smooth peyot and the white shirt, his wife the wrapped turban, typical of the look of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. His father, a modern-Orthodox rabbi, put on a play, a one-man show where he talks about war and mourning, thirty days after the death of his son. “He was more of a dreamer than a fighter. (…) He went with courage, to get the hostages out, that’s what gave him strength.” At 24, Elisha leaves behind a 10-month-old and another unborn child in his wife’s belly.

Shay is black, beautiful, and dead. Her life lasted for 19 years and ended in the bomb sent by the Islamic Jihad to her border control car during an anti-terror operation in Jenin, one of the most explosive places in the West Bank where the war rages on while all cameras are raised in Gaza. Her life was too short for the media to have many comments other than the circumstances of her death, and her Facebook account is still active.

Born in Ukraine, Denis came to Israel through the Masa program. A passionate athlete, willing to give everything for the country of his ancestors that gave him refuge, he tattooed the emblem of his unit on his chest. He died the day before the official start of his aerospace engineering studies at the Technion in Haifa. It was January, he was 32 years old.

Cedric is one of those Israelis we hear too little about: born in Israel to parents who came like thousands of Filipino workers, he stayed there alone with his mother after his father was deported by the state when he was two years old. It’s hard to be considered a foreigner in your native country, surrounded by Jews without being one, and to grow up in poverty with a single mother who survives by doing housework. After a difficult time in delinquency towards the end of high school, Cedric fought to join the Israeli army. He received distinctions there, and the citizenship of the only country he knew as his own. At his funeral, Christian and Jewish rites were mixed, and his wife Daniela, an Israeli from the Philippines like him, widowed at 22, one year less than her dead husband, chose to sit shiva with the whole family.

Yakir, I knew from the start that I wanted to talk about him. Yakir was one of the close friends of Michael, the son of my friend Sophie. Sophie and Philippe came nearly forty years ago, an Ashkenazi family with a quarter Sephardic from Paris, Alsatian culture, to make a life in the reconstructed country of their ancestors.

Michael, a good, joyful, generous person, pure of soul like his parents, studies physiotherapy. And for the needs of the country’s survival, he also served in the army, like all non-Haredi Israelis. A paratrooper, he fought in Gaza all fall and winter. That’s where he lost his friend Yakir. He tells me about him from his car, on his way to university.

“He was a student of architecture. He was really an artist. He was a quiet guy who loved to study. He loved studying the Torah. He studied every day. He did the daf yomi with a friend. He was a quiet guy. What he loved was studying. Architecture, and the Torah. He wasn’t at all a fighter, like the image people have… He was… gentle. And also as a friend, he always wanted to listen. He didn’t even like being in a group. He always wanted to be one on one because he really wanted to hear…

Today Yakir, who will forever be 26 years old – the Number of the Divine Name – listens to us from heaven.

And this Thursday, Michael will leave the university benches again to go back to Gaza. He’s sent to fight in Rafiah, the ultimate effort of the IDF to defeat Hamas and try to free the hostages. May God protect him. May Yakir protect him.

Oriyah (the light of God) was born in Jerusalem into an Orthodox Jewish family that had fled Ethiopia on foot through Sudan. In the photo, a smiling kid with all his rings, a member of the Israeli contingent of the Bronfman fellowship, a program that brings together American and Israeli high school students, curious about the evolution of blacks in American society, eager to discover the world. Oriah died with another soldier from his Givati unit while they formed a circle against the bullets, protecting those from the Yasar unit recovering the remains of soldiers killed on the battlefield. When one of those whom Oriah had saved came to visit his family at the shiva, the father told him, “If you or anyone else had fallen in my son’s place, it would have been the same for me. The pain would have been the same, because they are all my children.”

This year, for Yom HaZikaron, they are all our children, our friends, our lovers, our brothers and sisters. Even more so, as Avraham Tal and Yonatan Razel sing to us, in this song that I invite you to listen to while reading these lines: they are us, and we are them.

When I die, something of me will die in you,

When you die, something of you in me 

will die with you.

Because all of us, yes all of us

We are all one human fabric,

One Life.

For us, the living left behind, this is an invitation to awaken.

Let’s not wait for death to remind us of Unity.

Perhaps one way to truly honor them today will be to remember that, always, behind the arsim and the ashkenormatives, behind the ultra-settlers and the anti-Zionists, behind the Haredi and the unbelievers, we are all woven together, from the same life energy which shines in the light before we join it in death, and which patiently stands in wait, as long as we are alive, for us to pay attention to it.

On this Yom HaZikaron, as we mourn our dead, let’s whisper with them, between heaven and earth:

We are all one human fabric,

One Life.

About the Author
Rabbah Dr. Mira Neshama Weil is a Scholar and Teacher of Jewish Spirituality and Meditation. She received her Doctorate in Sociology of Religion from the Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and her certificate of “Jewish Mindfulness Teacher” from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. She learned Torah at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Studies and received smikha from Orthodox Rabbi Pr. Daniel Sperber at Beit Midrash Ha’ El in Jerusalem. She teaches Torah and Jewish Meditation with Akadem, Applied Jewish Spirituality, Or Ha Lev, Pardes, Moishe House Europe and at various institutions internationally.
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