That piercing sound. Those chills. The knowledge that the entire country is pausing their lives, just as you are, whether at a ceremony, in their house, or even while driving on the highway. And the devastating images run through your head.
The little boy who won’t get to play backgammon with his father ever again. The girlfriend, who was positive that she had found the love of her life. The mother, crying as her son’s 20th birthday comes around, the first birthday he would never celebrate. The brother who now has his own room, and the sister with no one to tease. The classmates, who grew up with a boy who never became a man. The chanichim, who remember the peulot he gave about sacrifice and the importance of Israel. The empty chair at family get-togethers, and the thoughts of what could have been. Those were the scenes going through my head, as life in Israel stopped for a minute.
And then, at the end of our minute, life resumed. Adults went back to work, teachers continued their lessons, traffic resumed, and kids continued playing in the park. But for these 116 fresh new families [mourning those killed in Operation Cast Lead], life never really continued. Time may have moved on, but it will never be the same. For these 116 Israelis, who made the ultimate sacrifice, the clock stopped. They will stay young adults for the rest of time.
To us, for the most part, they are pictures and names. It’s hard to remember that each one had a family, dreams, hopes. The line in his family tree stops with him. And the stories of victims start running through your mind.
Roi Klein, who sacrificed himself to save his friends. Nachshon Waxman, who was just trying to find a ride home. Dror Weinberg, one of the greatest soldiers in Israeli history. Michael Levin, the Lone Soldier from Philadelphia, who won’t ever again catch a game at Citizens Bank Park. Natan Cohen, who attended my Modiin high school. Shon Mondshine, against whom I played little league baseball in Tel Aviv. Yoni Netanyahu, who could be a grandfather already, but instead will never get any older. Rabbi Twersky, who will forever be in the middle of that Shmona Esrei prayer. Hadar Goldin, who will never get to turn his fiancée into a wife. Daniel Tragerman, who shares my name, but will never pass the age of 4. Max Steinberg, who lost his life this summer in Gaza, after leaving everything behind in Los Angeles. My brothers, Eyal, Gil-ad, and Naftali, who just wanted to get home for Shabbat.
These people, they weren’t any different than me. One was from Los Angeles, one from Philadelphia. A few were from Modiin. Some of them were even younger than I am now. And then, you can’t help it, the terrible thoughts go through your head. What if it’s you next time? What if those images become reality for your loved ones? None of these soldiers chose this, none of them wanted to become the next dead Israeli hero.
My family and I landed at Ben Gurion airport almost nine years ago, and I have fallen in love with this country ever since. It was literally love at first sight. I know how much it cost us to get it, and I know why we have it. It’s ours and it will always be.
It’s a tremendous honor to know that in 10 months it will be my turn to defend the country. I’ve been to Poland and seen all too well what happens when us Jews don’t have our own country protecting us. In our day and age, we have the opportunity to prevent that. We have the strongest army in the world, and I can’t wait to enlist in it. If not me, who will do it?I’ve already decided I want to be in a combat unit, proudly defending my country. It doesn’t really matter to me whether that’s in Givati, Golani, Kfir, or even the navy. I want to work hard during the tedious hours of basic training, in the blistering heat. I want my closet to be filled with the olive green uniforms. I want to be there in the thick of battle, defending my country with everything that I have.
During Operation Protective Edge, my family went to visit the injured soldiers in the hospital. You may think they were just relieved to be alive. They were, but all they wanted to do was go back to Gaza to continue fighting for us.
Pretty soon, it’ll be our turn to patrol the borders. To man the tanks, and to keep Israel safe. My former classmates, my yeshiva buddies, my baseball teammates. We all grew up with the same ideals about defending the country. We can never take Israel for granted. I bow my head today, as I remember these heroes that were no different from me a few years ago. I thank them for making the ultimate sacrifice, and pray that they rest in peace up there.
May we have a meaningful day, and go into tomorrow night’s celebrations with a full understanding of why we have the opportunity to do so. Am Yisrael Chai.
This is a journal entry I wrote 10 months before I drafted into the Israel Navy. I have kept it to myself until now, glancing at it occasionally during the tough times of my service when I needed extra motivation. In my opinion, hearing and reading stories about these heroes should be mandatory for every IDF soldier, as it truly put things into perspective for me during my service.
Yom Hazikaron, 2015