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Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

The streets lined to the cemetery in honor of Dor Zimel z"l
Thousands line the streets leading to the funeral of Maj. Dor Zimel z”l in Even Yehuda

In a moving ceremony held two weeks ago, my son Matan, an IDF Reserves Lt. Colonel who commanded the 134th battalion on Israel’s norther border, transferred command of his beloved battalion to his friend and deputy, Manny Ventura. As newly elected Mayor of Even Yehuda, Matan’s task now shifts to a more public phase as he takes on the responsibility for the safety and well-being of the 15,000 residents in our town.

There were speeches, plaques and the usual Bourekas pastries. The outgoing and incoming spouses were presented with large floral bouquets, a lovely gesture, but recalling how my daughter-in-law, Nuphar, a PhD Engineer with a professional career of her own, mother of three toddlers and a two-month-old infant, had fully supported Matan’s urgency to reach the northern border on October 7th, flowers seemed a bit inadequate.

In the two-and-a-half years Matan commanded this IDF reserve battalion, he was absent from the Tel Aviv law-firm where he worked and his family for a total of six months (!) reserve duty. The spouses of IDF reserve soldiers are often overlooked, but they are the true backbone of Israeli society during times of war and peace.

Sitting in a front-row place of honor reserved for our family, I glanced back at the reservists sitting in the auditorium. After only a few months’ respite, they had again been called to extended reserve duty. The following day, they would participate in a crash course to instruct them how to use the new Israeli Arbel computerized electronic trigger and sensors arms system they had each been appropriated. Right after, they would be sent as Israel’s first-line northern border defense. They half-listened, to the high-level officers’ pep talks about the importance of the anticipated combat missions against Hezbollah they would, any day, be asked to undertake.

We drove home in silence, with the realization slowly sinking-in that the threats of Israel’s northern border erupting into something more than a “few” missiles daily, might become a reality sooner than we had thought.

The daily missile attacks continued, escalating ten days ago when Hezbollah launched anti-tank missiles and explosive-laden drones into the Bedouin border town, Arab al-Aramshe.

Dor, a 27-year-old law student living with his fiancé, Shir, in our town, came into our lives a year ago when Matan recruited him to serve as his mayoral campaign manager, later asking him to continue as his chief of staff, while completing his university studies.

In a midday call, generally unusual, which made me wonder what was “up”, Matan said, “I just learned that Dor suffered a serious head wound in an attack up north. I’m on my way to share the tragic news with Shir, and then we’ll rush to the hospital in Nahariya.” News of the incident that injured 14 IDF soldiers and 4 civilians had yet to be announced in the media.

Major Dor Zimel, a deputy company commander serving in the Etzioni Brigade stationed since October 7th on the northern border, rejoined Matan’s political campaign only a day after being released from months of reserve duty. After some time at home, Dor’s unit was called for an additional one-month reserve duty stint, scheduled to end after the Pesach holiday, aimed at addressing the escalating situation in northern Israel.

Sadly, despite prayers for his recovery from near and afar, after four days on a respirator, Dor never regained consciousness. Erev Pesach, his organs were transplanted into seven Israelis, ages 8-months to 56 years-old, his lungs being successfully transplanted to another IDF reserve soldier who had suffered severe smoke inhalation while serving in Gaza four months ago.

Dor’s funeral was like none other I have ever experienced. Thousands holding Israeli flags to honor Dor lined the main street leading to our local cemetery. Two seriously injured teammates in hospital pajamas, hooked to mobile IV lines hanging from their wheelchairs, sat quietly near the coffin. Dor’s twin sister, brother, parents, and fiancé, who, on June 7th, had planned to stand under the chuppah with Dor, eulogized him; his grandmother saluted him.

Matan thanked Dor not only for assisting him in the campaign, but for making him love him like a younger brother. He will be sorely missed by many whose lives he touched.

Recognizing the need to better familiarize myself about the evolving needs in Israel’s northern communities, to be able to effectively advise The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Israel Crisis Relief Allocations Committee, I spent time shortly before the holiday visiting Haifa, Israel’s largest northern city, together with other Jewish Federation Israeli representatives.

We visited Rambam Medical Center, which operates the world’s largest underground hospital with over 2,000 beds and trauma bays, and visited the municipal Homefront Command Center that oversees each neighborhood and the unique needs of residents. We learned how civil society organizations prepare for every potential scenario. They, too, tenuously wait for the other shoe to drop, not knowing if – or when – they will be mobilized.

Most years, during chol hamoed Pesach, parks in Northern and Southern Israel are packed with families camping and enjoying nature. This holiday season, few options exist for family outings, as the map of Israel has significantly shrunk due to safety and security concerns in the usual popular sites.

While trying to enjoy some much-needed family-time, we remain glued to our news sources, anxiously wondering what the short and long-term futures hold, not only for the soldiers and civilians in northern and southern Israel whose lives have been disrupted – or forever changed. Every Israeli, whether evacuated from a Bedouin village in northern or southern Israel, or those enjoying coffee at a Tel Aviv café, appreciates the fragile reality within which we are living.

About the Author
For the past 20 years, Karen Katzman-Hanan has directed the Israel Office of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and represents a U.S. philanthropic foundation in Israel. Karen holds a Master of Public Administration from New York University and made Aliyah in 1984. She is a mother of 4 children and lives in Even Yehuda, Israel. She and her husband, Wayne, a figure skating coach, share 6 grandchildren.
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