After 30+ years of living in Israel without being closely touched by the hostilities and violence that so frequently affects lives here, I experienced first-hand the loss of a friend’s child, who was killed on the first day of the war.
I cannot truly sense what it was like to be a resident of northern Israel this past month. To live in fear of a rocket hitting my home, my yard, my office, my car, or my neighborhood schools and stores. To keep a handbag and essentials constantly at hand, ready to grab and run down to the shelter the moment the siren wails warning of an imminent rocket attack. To evacuate to another town in the center or south of the country, where family and friends would put me up indefinitely. This was not my “war experience.”
I spent this past month living in another fear. The dread of a phone call, or a friend at work, and even my own son Doron, telling me that the son of a friend or neighbor had been killed in Lebanon. My personal horror began the day the war began. I had just returned home from work that Wednesday, July 12, when a friend called and asked, “Are you sitting down? She repeated her question again, “Are you sitting down?” My heart began to pound. “Carleen’s son Yaniv,” she said, “He was killed in the tank that was exploded this morning.” I started to shake. I felt as if a knife had been plunged into my brain. I broke down and cried.
The three days preceding Yaniv’s funeral, and the week of his shiva, were days of tears and heartache. Matters at the office seemed totally irrelevant. I was unable to focus on anything other than thoughts of how does one cope with the loss of a child and what I could do to help support and console my friends Carleen and Asher and their other two children. And what could I do to soften my own children’s fears and confusion.
And the next three weeks were filled with a horrible dread of another phone call bringing news of another death. And then, last Thursday. It was not a phone call. It was a colleague nearby, with an Internet news page on her screen, turning to me and saying, “Another soldier from Maccabim has been killed.” His name was Nir Cohen. I quickly scanned my brain for all the Cohens I know, but could not think of any with a son named Nir. Soon I received phone calls from friends asking if I know who Nir Cohen is. The third call identifies the family. I do not know them personally. But the mother is a teacher in our local junior high, so my children know her. And the sister is a friend of Smadar’s. And my cousin Jenny, from Kibbutz Tzora near Beit Shemesh, calls to say her daughter Danit knew Nir. They met and became good friends when they were in a group that hiked the 900 kilometer Israel Trail together. Distressed and restless, I could not stay at work. Certain that this news had already reached Carleen, and sensing that this would be a very difficult day for her, I left work early and went to visit her.
By the time I went to bed that night, I had already heard news that 15 IDF soldiers had been killed that day. Sleep did not come easy. Over the weekend the IDF suffered many more losses. When we awoke Sunday morning, it was Doron who told us that yet another soldier from our town had been killed. Oz Tsemach had been Doron’s classmate, but not a close friend. Doron had actually gotten friendly with Oz’s older brother. Amit is a friend of Oz’s sister.
Doron was given leave from the army Sunday afternoon to attend Oz’s funeral. Smadar went to the shivas for Yaniv and Nir. Amit went to the shiva for Oz. (Yuval’s Aunt Jacqueline died a month ago. And a friend of mine lost her mother two weeks ago.) So this has been a summer of funerals and shivas. It has been a season of mourning.
Yesterday, I attended Yaniv’s unveiling. (In Israel the tradition is to have the headstone placed at the end of the 30 day period of mourning.) I saw friends there who told me they know the families of the other fallen soldiers and were going to make condolence visits after the unveiling ceremony. Since I was heading to my office after the ceremony, I offered a ride to three soldiers from Yaniv’s army company who needed to get to Tel Aviv. When they realized I had brought them near to the Tel Hashomer – Shiva Hospital, they mentioned they had a comrade hospitalized there. So I detoured and took them to the hospital so they could visit their friend before heading back up north. I felt that was the least I could do for these kids. They were so friendly and polite. As we drove and chatted, all I could really think of was my wish that they return safely home to their families.
The cease-fire agreement has not brought me any joy. It has brought some relief from the fear that has clutched me for a month. But there are still IDF soldiers in Lebanon, and Hezbollah fighters are still very much present. I continue to worry. And mostly I feel weary and so very sad.
I apologize if this message makes you tremble. Truly I am an optimist and believe in the spirit and will of the people of Israel to overcome our enemies and keep our nation strong. But some days, like today, my heart is just too heavy.
It will get better.