When my youngest son, now a soldier in the Israeli army, was 7, he could recite the Hebrew names of eight missing Israeli soldiers and one captive reservist by heart, complete with their last names and the names of their mothers. We stared at him in amazement as he rattled off “Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah (Katz)” and were sad that this was part of his reality as a child living in Israel.
The setting was at our Friday night dinner table. Moved by the plight of families of soldiers who were missing in action or being held captive, after we blessed our own sons, my husband and I added an additional prayer that named the MIAs by name.
For eight years, we continued this practice. Five MIAs remained constant, and continue to be relevant until today: Yehuda Katz, Zachary Baumel, and Tzvi Feldman, three soldiers missing since the battle of Sultan Yacoub; Ron Arad, the Israeli navigator who disappeared in 1986; and Guy Hever, who vanished in 1997. Other names came and went as the captives or their remains were returned: Adi, Benny, and Omar; Ehud and Eldad; Elhanan Tennenbaum, and Gilad Shalit, who was abducted in 2006 and was released in exchange for 1,027 prisoners in 2011.
On the Friday night after the Shalit exchange, we stopped. Why? For starters, over the years, the ritual had become less and less comfortable. We discovered that, at times, we had been praying for soldiers who we were led to believe were still alive even though the Israeli authorities knew that they weren’t. Once Gilad Shalit was released, it was clear that none of the missing were living, which made the matter seem less urgent, and many people were troubled by the exorbitant price extorted for his release. Perhaps most importantly, as our two youngest sons approached conscription age, we did not want them to have a weekly reminder of soldiers who were taken captive and whose bodies were never returned.
But as Passover approaches this year, as the mother of two Israeli soldiers, I can’t stop myself from thinking of two other Israeli soldiers:
Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul left his armored personnel carrier on July 20, 2014 during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza to repair it when Hamas attacked his unit and took him prisoner. He was originally declared missing, but after an investigation, the IDF determined that he had been killed in action. In March of this year, his family, who originally accepted the decree, filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court demanding to see the evidence on which the IDF declared him dead.
Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was kidnapped by Hamas in Southern Gaza on August 1, 2014, an hour and a half after an agreed upon humanitarian cease fire went into effect. He was whisked into an underground tunnel and was separated from his fiancée Edna and his twin brother Tzur forever. Based on forensic evidence, the IDF determined that Hadar had been killed in action. His family held a funeral for him and have been working tirelessly to bring his remains to their final resting place in Israel ever since.
In the almost three years since the dreadful summer of 2014, however, Hadar and Oron’s remains have not been returned to Israel for burial, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, leaving the Shaul and Goldin families in a perpetual state of limbo and anguish.
As Passover approaches and I contemplate my first seder ever without one of my sons, a soldier who is guarding an isolated kibbutz, I can’t shake the images of Hadar’s radiant smile and Oron’s soft gray eyes. I can’t bear the thought that, as I sit down to my seder to pass the story of the Exodus down from generation to generation, knowing exactly where my missing son is, two families will be sitting down to their seder without closure. Leah and Simcha Goldin will sit down at their seder knowing that Hadar has not had a proper burial, while Zahava Shaul will sit down to her seder without her son Oron, without faith in the system that told her that her son was killed in action, without her husband Herzl, who died of cancer while waiting for his son to come home, and with the belief that her son is alive and being held in captivity.
But what can I do? And what can you do?
As we come into the homestretch before Passover, here are some ways in which you can remember #HadarAndOron as you prepare for the holiday and at the seder itself:
- Sign the World Jewish Congress’ petition — While publicly pressuring the Israeli government to do more on behalf of the missing soldiers can undermine Israel’s bargaining position in the behind-the-scenes negotiations that are said to be underway, leading to an inflated price tag, pressuring foreign governments, the UN, and international organizations to increase the pressure on Hamas does not entail similar risks. At the time of this writing, the World Jewish Congress’s on-line petition calling on the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross to act on behalf of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin is 100 names short of its goal of 5,000 signatures. It should be able to get much, much more. Sign the petition.
- Add an orange to your seder table — On Rosh Hashana we eat symbolic foods based on Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish and even English puns. Why not expand the tradition to Passover as well? An orange could be a fitting symbol for Israel’s missing soldiers because “Hadar” means citrus in Hebrew and the sound of “Oron” is not far from “orange.” “Goldin” also sounds like the word “golden,” and the Hebrew word for an “orange” is “tapuz” — a contraction of “tapuach zahav” or “golden apple.” (Some people already add an orange to their seder plates as an expression of solidarity with LGBT Jews and other people who are marginalized in the Jewish community. If you already put an orange on your seder plate, add a temporary layer of meaning to it this year; if you don’t, once the two missing soldiers have been returned for burial you can decide whether or not to retain the orange as a symbol for other reasons.)
- Find a time to recall Israel’s missing sons at your seder – A sample prayer for Oron and Hadar can be found at the end of this blog post. You may also want to include the five Israeli MIAs mentioned at the start of this article: Yehuda Katz, Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman, Ron Arad, and Guy Hever. In addition, while my focus here has been on two soldiers who were captured recently while fulfilling a mission in defense of their country, Hamas is actually holding four Israeli sons at the moment — two of whom are alive: Avraham Abera Mengistu, an Ethiopian-born Israeli from Ashkelon who snuck over the border into Gaza for unknown reasons, and Hisham al-Sayed, a Bedouin Israeli who also crossed over the border of his own volition. You may want to recall all four of these sons at your seder. Any or all of these sons could be mentioned at any of the following junctions:
- After blessing your children at the start of the seder, express your concern for the families of the soldiers who never came home.
- After raising the bread of affliction and reciting “Ha Lachma Anya,” which announces that this year we are slaves, but next year we will be free, express your hope that by next Passover the families of the soldiers will be redeemed from their uncertainty.
- As you break the matzahs during “Yachatz,” think of the broken hearts of the families of the missing soldiers and of the need for repair in our world.
- As you tell the story of the Exodus to our children during “Maggid” and discuss the four sons, remember the sons who never returned and their parents who have been left with perpetual questions.
- After reciting “V’hi She’amda” and declaring that in every generation our enemies rise to destroy us but God redeems us from their hands, add a prayer that the missing soldiers be returned from their captivity for proper burial in Israel.
- After dipping Karpas (green vegetable) in saltwater or eating the Maror (bitter herb), remember the tears of the families of Israel’s missing soldiers.
However you choose to remember Hadar and Oron, find a way to communicate that with others. Write a post describing what you did or share a photograph of your set table or of drawings of hearts, flowers, or Israeli flags by your children on social media. And be sure to use the hashtag #HadarAndOron so as to bring your efforts to the attention of their families and bring their loved ones some solace and comfort.
Batya Arad went to her grave not knowing the fate of her son Ron. Yona Baumel was laid to rest never having brought his son Zach to a resting place of his own. Herzl Shaul succumbed to cancer while lobbying to discover what happened to Oron. Bereaved families on all sides must be given the opportunity to separate from their loved ones, internalize their loss, and bury their dead.
This Passover, we may not be able to convince Hamas to let our people go. But we can stand with Zahava Shaul and with Leah and Simcha Goldin, their children, and their extended families, identify with their suffering and sacrifice, and give them a loving virtual embrace as we recount our national journey to freedom.
A Prayer for Hadar and Oron
Written by Chief Rabbi David Lau in 2015
אב הרחמים שוכן מרומים ברחמיו העצומים
הוא יפקוד ברחמים את החיילים הקדושים והטהורים
הדר בן שמחה וחדווה לאה
ואורון בן הרצל וזהבה
.שמסרו נפשם על קדושת השם
מנשרים קלו ומאריות גברו
.לעשות רצון קונם וחפץ צורם בעוז ובענווה
יזכרם אלוהינו לטובה עם שאר צדיקי עולם
יביאם לקבר ישראל
“ככתוב “ואל עמו תביאנו
וינוחו בשלום על משכבם
May the Merciful Father,
Who dwells on high in His tremendous mercy,
remember with mercy the holy and pure soldiers
Hadar son of Simcha and Chedva Leah
and Oron son of Herzl and Zahava
who gave their lives for the sanctity of God’s name.
They were swifter than eagles and mightier than lions,
eager to fulfill the will of their Maker and Creator
with strength and humility.
May our God remember them for good,
with the other righteous people,
and bring them to burial in Israel,
as it is written,
“And bring him unto his people.”
And may they rest in peace in their resting place
and let us say Amen.