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Rachel Sharansky Danziger
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When you live in Israel, the fallen are everywhere

We don’t commemorate our loved ones’ deaths, but rather the lives they lived, the loves they loved, before we lost them
A bird observatory commemorating six fallen soldiers in the bird sanctuary by Eilat. (courtesy)

When you live in Israel, the fallen are everywhere.

You meet them in the faces of the people you see, the people who loved them.

(“My son had something more than the courage to die — he had the courage to live,” says the grieving father in Modiin about his son, Lavi Lipshitz. “My nephew was such a sweet boy, such a sweet boy,” says my neighbor in Jerusalem about her nephew, Ben Zussman.)

You meet them in places that remind you of them.

(When I drive by Shadmot Mehola these days, I think of resident Na’aran Eshhar. Killed three months after donating a kidney, Na’aran willed his organs to people in need of them. Newly widowed, his wife asked the public to pray for the procedure’s success. “Na’aman is ‘zoche’ —  meriting — to donate his second kidney today,” she wrote.)

And sometimes, you meet them where you don’t expect them.

I was walking by a lake in Eilat’s bird sanctuary a few weeks ago, enjoying the meandering paths around the lake, when I saw them: six pictures hanging in a wooden structure, evoking the memory of a day that was filled with smoke and loss and blood. I still remember that day — May 11th, 2004. Even though the Intifada had made us veterans of bad news and painful funerals by then, that day stood out.

(courtesy)

The six young men commemorated in Eilat’s bird sanctuary set out with their comrades into Gaza’s Zeitoun district on that day, resolved to destroy our enemies’ rocket production facilities. After months of incessant rocket attacks against the Jewish villages in Gush Katif and the Gaza envelope, the army had had enough.

Tragically, these six men never made it to their destination. Their armored vehicle was bombed and burned en route, our enemies snatched and abused their bodies, and the IDF could only retrieve them after launching a massive attack inside Zeitoun itself. The newspapers called that day “asson ha-nagmash” — the APC Disaster. Sadly, the name was quickly amended to “the First APC Disaster,” since it was followed by a similar disaster the very next day.

The memory of that day seemed incongruous, almost obscene, in the quietude of the bird sanctuary. What does bloodshed have to do with open skies and peaceful lakes and birdsongs? Why bring the memory of such violence into this place of peace?

But this, of course, is exactly the point: we don’t commemorate our loved ones’ deaths, but rather the lives they lived, the loves they loved, before we lost them. One of the six, Eilat native Adron Amar, loved nature. And so his family chose to celebrate his memory, and the memory of his fallen comrades, by enhancing the experience of other nature-lovers when they come to look at birds here in the desert.

“Blue sea, red mountains, birds migrating through the circle of life,” reads a sign beside the structure. “Our dear Adron was born in Eilat. We will remember and love him forever.”

* * *

Almost exactly 20 years after the First APC Disaster, five young soldiers were killed in the same neighborhood of Gaza, fighting against the same enemies, and in the name of the same cause: defending the continued existence of the State of Israel and the safety of its citizens.

Sgt. Itay Livny, 19, from Ramat Hasharon; Sgt. Yosef Dassa, 19, from Kiryat Bialik; Sgt. Ermiyas Mekuriyaw, 19, from Beersheba; Sgt. Daniel Levy, 19, from Kiryat Motzkin; and Staff Sgt. Ariel Tsym, 20, from Modiin, will go on smiling from their pictures, like Adron Amar 20 years before them. Like the other young men and women we have lost in the fight for our survival since before the state’s foundation. Like the other 267 souls we lost in Gaza since the beginning of our current ground offensive. They will go on smiling at us like starlight, shining bright even though the star that had produced it has burned out.

I think of these smiles. I think of May 11, 2004, and May 10, 2024, and all the years before and in between and yet to come, and can’t help but wonder: is this, then, our destiny? Are we doomed to go on living by our sword, fighting war after war after war, burying our children forever?

I can’t answer this question. But I can, and I do, set it aside today, as we prepare to mourn our losses. Because Adron and Itay and Yosef, Ermiyas and Daniel and Ariel, deserve better from me than despair.

They deserve my gratitude.

They deserve my resolution.

They deserve my efforts to make this land of ours worthy of the cost.

And I can’t give them what they deserve if I allow myself to lose myself in sorrow.

If they could find the courage to stand up and fight for us, the least I can do is find the strength to keep on going.

If they could risk their lives for us, the least I can do is go on living — and strive to make Israel the best that it can be.

* * *

The birds that pass through Eilat’s observatory fly far. Some will make it all the way to Siberia this summer. When they return in the fall, they will rest here for a bit before setting out to cross the desert into Africa. Tiny though they are, their wings will carry them for thousands of miles, over land and sea and many dangers.

The memories of our fallen travel far as well — they travel with us, through us. They travel through our actions, through the way we live our lives.

I didn’t know Adron Amar; I never met his family. But I sat in the shade of a structure overlooking placid water once, thinking of his sacrifice, and of his love of nature.

And now I know his name, and I won’t forget him. I will carry his name with me, instead, as I walk through life, through both the good parts and the parched, sorrow-heavy deserts. I will remember him in quiet moments, and when I hear birdsong in the morning, and when my thoughts take flight. I will carry him with me, and try to be worthy of his sacrifice, and let his starlight shine in the way I live my life.

* * *

When you live in Israel, the fallen are everywhere. You carry them with you and into your life.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and educator who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, history, and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and other online venues, and explores storytelling in the Hebrew bible as a teacher in Maayan, Torah in Motion, and Matan.
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