While my older son Avi guarded the border, his younger brother Arky was called into Gaza recently, for a mission which he described as the most important assignment his unit has received in its entire history. “Every single one of us was ready to put our lives on the line for this mission,” he told us upon his return.
My son’s job is not an enviable one, and it’s not for most people. It’s a largely unknown unit called “Yasar,” an acronym for Yechidat Srika, loosely translated as the scanning unit. He is involved in recovering bodies and body parts, sometimes even on an active battlefield. Think of a combination of ZAKA and the Chevra Kadisha doing their work, all while under enemy fire.
He explains his job to his young children: “Abba’s job is to make sure that all our chayalim come home.” Only when they get older will they learn the chilling meaning of that innocuous description.
I won’t go into the details of what transpired during his days in Gaza. If they turn out to be momentous, we will doubtless hear about them on the news in due time. Their mission, by military standards, was a complete success.
“Every single one of us was ready to put our lives on the line for this mission.” They all did put their lives on the line, and two among them fell.
Two of our brave Givati heroes were killed while protecting the Yasar unit. The recovery work Yasar does requires focus and calm. The area of Gaza they worked in had not yet been secured, so calm was in short supply. Nevertheless, the troops who encircled and protected them fought continuously to assure that their crew could do their holy, vital work.
Tanks fired rounds overhead. Bullets whizzed by. But my son’s unit was confident that the troops around them had their backs, and that they could remain laser-focused on their objectives. Fear was not on the table.
Only when they returned safely back on their base did the Yasar unit learn that two soldiers had been killed in action.
Almost 80 years ago, in a town now found on the map by the name of Oświęcim, but back then was commonly known as Auschwitz, lived a 21-year-old by the name of Harry Bush.
Harry Bush, aged around 21, was a tall, strapping young man prior to the war. His muscular physique was a huge asset throughout his time in Tereizinstadt. When he was then deported to Auschwitz, he was assigned to the Sonderkommando, a group of prisoners that worked in the crematoria. Part of his job was to remove Jewish remains from the facility so they could then be disposed of in disgrace.
In his wildest dreams, little could Harry have imagined that, 78 years later, he would have grandsons serving in a Jewish army.
In a state called Israel.
And that his grandson Arky’s job would be to remove Jewish remains during war, not for ignominious disposal, but to be returned home for loving burial in the sanctified earth of the holy land.
* * *
Back to the present.
“Abba, will you come with me to the shiva of Oriya Goshen, one of the soldiers who was killed? I want to represent our unit in thanking his family for their sacrifice on our behalf.”
In Israel, shiva visits often take place in an outdoor tent, which can better accommodate larger crowds. Arky and I met outside of the shiva tent of the Goshen family. Yehuda, a friend, joined us to record some video, which could be sent to the Yasar unit (most of whom were still on duty), so they would know that their condolences and gratitude had been conveyed.
I was unsure what to expect from an Ethiopian shiva, but what I found was very familiar. What I was less prepared for was the strength of this family. From the conversations, it was clear that they knew that their sacrifice was part of this nation’s continued struggle to fulfill its purpose.
“Even if you, or someone else had fallen in place of my son, it would have been the same for me. The pain would have been the same, because they are all my children,” the father told us.
“They went in with great faith,” the mother continued, “with a sense of responsibility to protect one to another in Am Yisrael. My son, and all of them, are there with solid core values of Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. This is a bright light for us as a family.”
Arky told the family how their son Oriya and his comrades provided shelter among the storm of bullets and artillery which raged around them. How the Yasar members had no fear, because they knew that the Givati unit was there for them. He thanked them for their sacrifice, and for the fact that Oriyah enabled him and his unit to come home safely.
This very special family, the Goshens, were visibly moved to hear from someone who been in battle with their son during his final moments on earth.
Although I was unsure if it was my place to speak, I added but a brief thought during the next lull in the conversation. “Both as the father of this chayal, and on behalf of all the parents of chayalim, I want to tell you how much we appreciate what you have sacrificed. All I can say is ‘thank you.’”
Because your son Oriya gave his life, my son, and so many other sons, are back home safely.