Eyal Tsarfati was only 19 years old when he was killed defending Israel. His parents came to his grave today, one of 22,437 families who mourn for their loves ones who died since the State of Israel was founded.
So little, do I know about this young man. He died in 1990 and today, Elie stood by his grave as his family came to pay their respects. Each of Elie’s soldiers was assigned a cemetery and a name and had to call Elie when they arrived. Elie can tell me how many artillery soldiers died during their three years of military service, and how many died while doing reserve duty in the artillery division. By each, a soldier in the artillery division stood today.
Elie called his commanding officer when all of his soldiers had checked in. That commanding officer called his commanding officer and on it went. Today had to be perfect, from a logistics point of view, so that beside each soldier that has fallen, a soldier in today’s army would stand. No family would arrive to an empty grave. Each has a soldier, a flag, a token of this nation’s ongoing commitment to honor and remember their sacrifice. So little in return for such a great service given.
It was my hardest Memorial Day ever, my brain searching for appropriate thoughts as the siren wailed. I had already known Eyal’s name because I asked Elie yesterday, though I didn’t know he was only 19 when he died. In the two minutes that I stood and listened to the siren, I thought of Eyal and of a friend’s son who was killed during the Second Lebanon War two years ago. I thought of Elie, begging God that I never live to mourn a son or a daughter.
Today isn’t about Elie and the boys who serve in the army now. They stand as a quiet backdrop to the real heroes of the day, those who could not stand, could not comfort their families today. It was a hard day for Elie’s younger sister too. She cried last night when she heard the siren and began listening to the memorial ceremony. We talked and I knew that she too, at only 8 years old, is projecting her fears and worries onto the day.
At schools around the country, after the siren sounds at 11:00 a.m. for two minutes, there is a ceremony. I felt it would be too much for my daughter; too great the fears she already faces. Each time something happens to a soldier, she asks if Elie is ok and last night she asked if she could stay awake to see him when he got home. Too close for her, this year, I thought. I called a friend, who told me to follow my heart. I called the school counselor, who told me to do what I felt was right and that she would have years to face memorial days. Eventually, she would have to, the counselor told me and as she knows our family, she knows that I have two more sons who will some day become soldiers (God willing).
Yes, I answered the counselor and my heart. Many years ahead to face, to give respect, to honor. But eight is young and the fear is great. Children deserve a chance to escape things that parents have to face and so I let her skip school and come with me to the office. She stood by me as the siren sounded; quiet and listening. In the morning, when we dropped Elie off at the national military cemetery on the way to the office, my daughter asked if we could go into the cemetery. “Not today,” I told her. She wanted to prolong being with Elie, and she was curious. But today, the cemetery belongs to the families and I didn’t feel it was right. She is young and full of questions.
I’m always amazed (and grateful) for the comments I receive (ok, not the one about how the writer accuses Israeli soldiers of being “responsible for killing young children, kicking millions of Palestinians out of their country, and raping thousands of young women!” (See: Eyes Closed by Hatred.) )
One fellow technical writer in Israel wrote to me and we’ve been having an ongoing discussion. He’s right according to my head, but I can’t seem to get my heart and fingers to listen to him. I thought about our discussion today as well. “My son didn’t die,” a bereaved parent told this technical writer, “he was killed.” And so, this friend wrote to gently suggest that perhaps I should use the word “killed” and not “died” when referring to the deaths of soldiers.
He’s right. Each of these young men (or women) was killed. Dying is a gentler word, I argued back. In my head, I know that he is right. Old people die, having lived a long life. My mind whirled with the words and I realized that my heart is fighting to give them in death what they were denied. It seems more peaceful to say someone died.
Denied peace during their lives, having fought our enemies and sacrificed their lives, I can only hope they have found peace now. May the memory of Eyal Tsarfati be eternally blessed and may his family and all the mourners of Israel find comfort in knowing that the deaths of their loved ones enables us to close the first 60 years of Israel’s re-established history…and begin the next.