On Friday afternoon, news of yet another terrorist incident on the Egyptian border came through. The first news said three Palestinians had died after they blew themselves up. The next report spoke of an exchange of fire.
Minutes before Shabbat, I heard that one soldier had been killed, another wounded. This shattered so much of the Shabbat peace I was looking forward to. As I was lighting candles, I remembered speaking with a friend the night before. She told me her son was stationed on the Egyptian border. There are miles and miles of border; no real reason to worry and yet, of course, I did. But truthfully, no matter whose son it was, some family was in shock and mourning.
After the Sabbath ended, we learn his name. He was 20-year-old Corporal Netanel Yahalomi, and he is being buried tonight. Jewish custom is to bury within the first 24 hours, even sooner if the deceased is in Jerusalem where a funeral could be held within hours of the death. The only exception is when the person dies too close to the Sabbath. Netanel died Friday and so for the Sabbath his family was in a no man’s land of mourning. The hours before burial are complex in terms of Jewish law and they are extremely difficult, perhaps among the most difficult for a family. The healing, the acceptance, even the lessening of shock does not begin until the funeral is over – in the week of mourning known as the Shiva.
Tonight they will bury him and in the next week, morning, afternoon and night, friends will come, his army brothers, commanders, and more. The house will be filled with talk of who he was, how he died. Pictures will be shown; friends will talk. The family will be surrounded with love and eased through this time.
Only tonight did I learn his name and that he was in an artillery unit protecting workers who were building a border fence between Egypt and Israel – to protect our citizens from similar attacks to the one who killed him.
But there is a bittersweet piece of news I only read tonight – Netanel was hit by gunfire as he drew close to the Egyptian border. He and another soldier had noticed a group of African refugees and had taken them water to drink. In performing this life-saving act, Netanel lost his. The bittersweet becomes even more bitter as we learn that Netanel was initially given a lower profile, placing him out of combat. He, like many of our sons, fought hard to have his profile raised enough so that he could be in a combat unit. On Friday, he was killed – as a combat soldier serving his country.
So, a nation that some call apartheid lost a beloved son because in his humanity, he tried to help black Muslim refugees who were fleeing their homeland as they huddled in fear in a Muslim country.
The good news is that the second soldier who was injured is doing very well and expected to recover.