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When the sun bled

The war that took Raz Guterman did not deliver its promise of 'Peace to the Galilee' – still, the death of this staunchly secular kibbutznik was a Holy sacrifice

For days the sun loomed large over the horizon. Hamsins, hot winds from the desert, sought the comfort of the cool Mediterranean. The sun, its image refracted increasingly larger through the haze, devoured objects in the distance. The orb grew to be a thick, dark red. We knew that something was going to happen.

Raz was celebrating the end of his stint in the army with other soldiers from his unit. They were proud to be Sayeret Golani, the elite of the infantry, and this would be their last break before getting out in two months. Raz was carrying a boxful of bottles past my barracks on the Kibbutz. That was the last time I saw him.

For weeks, special exercises had been held for the troops in the north. Finally, word came that terrorists had tried to assassinate our ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov, which was the catalyst for war. That night I went to watch a magic show at a nearby moshav. Throughout the performance, officers came in, tapping men on the shoulder, telling them that they were being called to active duty. By the end of the last magic act, one-third of the audience had disappeared.

The next evening, many of those who remained at Kibbutz HaOgen gathered in the meeting hall anxiously awaiting the news reports. General Ariel Sharon appeared on the television screen, triumphantly announcing that we had captured Beaufort Castle. He boasted that there were no casualties, a “perfect battle” as if to claim divine favor.

From a hill close by, Sharon surveyed the scene, peering through a telescope before reporters and cameras. Beaufort towered above the sea of peaks that is the Galilee region, holding a strategic advantage over much of the southern border of Lebanon.

Our army had failed in two earlier attempts to take the medieval fortress from terrorists. The PLO had used it as a base of operations, for bloody incursions into Israel’s north – their violence always directed towards civilians, never attacking a military installation. None dead, Sharon repeated.

The news also relayed that the army had found huge arms caches for the PLO, far more than expected. Our forces would be directed to continue north.

I had come to HaOgen for their ulpan, the language immersion program to obtain the fluency I needed before I studied Kabbalah. The name HaOgen means anchor, which drew my restless soul. I did not know from Kibbutz movements when I chose HaOgen, only that the group it belonged to, Shomer HaTzair, was the most hardcore which appealed to me. Still, at the Kibbutz, I was on occasion shocked by the hostility some harbored for the faith that gave birth to Israel.

Our beloved Ulpan teacher, Yaakov Guterman, was and is a well-known illustrator. Yaakov’s father Simcha Guterman was a hero who died on the first day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Yaakov’s son Raz was an exceptional athlete who had been the High School cross-country running champion of Israel.

I was returning from the fields for lunch when Miriam who ran the laundry called me over. In her office were an army Rabbi and a commander. Miriam was ashen. She said, “Raz is dead. I want you to tell Yaakov’s students.” In English and French, in broken Spanish and in pantomime I conveyed the horrific announcement.

The following day was the funeral. Raz’s friends who had been at Haogen a few weeks before had returned. On television that night they began to announce the fallen. We learned that Raz was mortally wounded at Beaufort. His commander had gone in first. Shots rang out. Raz bravely went in next. It had not been a perfect battle.

As I write these words, it is the 16th day of the month of Sivan, the Yahrzeit and fortieth year since Raz passed on to the World to Come. The war that took him did not live up to its name. Shalom Hagalil did not bring Peace to the Galilee. Still, Raz’s death was in Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the Lord’s name.

The name Raz is Hebrew for “secret.” It is a great mystery that so many sons of the secular Kibbutzim show such transcendental selflessness on the battlefield.

Once a Hasid from Eilat lamented to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that there were no graves of the righteous in that city by which to pray. The Rebbe responded that if you go to the military section of any cemetery you will find many Tzadikim.

I was close with many of the children at HaOgen. They would chase me around to show them martial arts or walk on my hands or to juggle.

A few months after I had left for Yeshiva I was on a bus in Tel Aviv. By then I’d grown a beard and had on a beret to cover my head. In the back of the bus two kids from HaOgen spotted me and excitedly shouted, “Ezra!” Immediately their parents glared and pulled them back as if to say, “Can’t you see? He’s become one of them!”

Our Sages tell us that the Second Holy Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred. The solution for the destructive divisiveness besetting modern Israel must be baseless love.

The secular community needs to recognize that the very foundation of their country and culture comes from and is sustained by the sacred. The religious have to have reverence for the profound service of the secular in the military, without which Israel would have, Heaven forbid, perished.

One of the 32 paths of Torah learning in the Kabbalah is Gematria in which the inner meaning of words is reflected in the sum of the numeric value of their letters. The letters for Raz (רז) total 207. It is no coincidence or rather it is Divine Providence that 207 is also the Gematria for Or (אוֹר) meaning Light.

May we continue to be illuminated by the life of Raz Guterman and those like him for their Holy sacrifice!

About the Author
Ezra ben-Pesach is a writer, attorney, martial artist and mountain climber.
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