I never met Noam Adin Rechter Levi and one of the saddest things I can say today, is that I never will. Last night, as I mingled with friends from my synagogue, I talked to a neighbor who is a doctor in the army and had been working with Noam, who was a medic, for many of the last few months. Today, I left a meeting and headed north, to Noam’s parents’ home, to a beautiful village nestled in the green countryside of the lower Galilee area of Israel.
I think I’m a coward at heart. At least half a dozen times, I almost turned around. Maybe Noam’s father won’t even remember me; I wasn’t really a friend, was I? I don’t know the family; I’m sure they are surrounded by loved ones and friends; should I go or would I only make things worse…and that was a silly thought, how could anything be worse than what they were coping with now?
The minute I walked into the “mourner’s tent” outside their home and saw the welcoming smile, I knew two things. David did remember me and it was good that I’d come. We talked a bit about the army and soldiers, kids or men, ready for this challenge of defending our land, or not. If I had to sum up my visit, it would be with the word comfort. No, I can’t say I gave comfort, but I was comforted by Noam’s parents.
They speak of their son in sorrow, but with joy. They celebrate who he was, what he represented. They know he died defending this country and there is comfort in that. The day after Noam was buried, one of his friends was critically injured in a terrible car accident in which two others died. Noam’s mother knows her son belongs to all of us, he will be remembered and loved by a nation who recognizes their sacrifice, his sacrifice.
The night before, my neighbor told me about two dreams that Noam had recently. He also told me about the terrible car crash in which Noam’s friend was injured, “but don’t tell Noam’s parents about it; they may not know.”
I didn’t say anything, but then Sharon mentioned it and so I said, “you weren’t supposed to know about that.”
They told me a wonderful story, many wonderful stories, about an amazing young man. He was a medic, charged with treating the young men in his unit. At one point, one soldier came over to him complaining about knee pains. Sometimes, soldiers come up with excuses to get out of things they have to do; sometimes, there’s nothing you can really do for them. Noam pulled out a cream and rubbed it into the young man’s knees, careful to hide the name of the medicine. He explained that it was a very expensive but very effective cure, not intended for anyone and that it should help.
Within hours, the young man returned and thanked Noam – the cream had worked (and Noam didn’t laugh; didn’t embarrass him, never let on that it was simply anti-fungal cream that could not possibly have helped). That was Noam, his father said then, and several other times. It seems everyone agrees – from my neighbor, to Noam’s commanding officer, “Noam took part in dozens of Duchifat operations and always conducted himself in a commendable manner. He acted out of a sense of purpose and had a full comprehension of the operations he was part of, both as a combatant and as a military medic. He was held in the highest regard by his commanders and his comrades.”
Noam was the one who accepted everyone and didn’t judge people based on how religious they were or were not. And the hardest thing for me, was that Noam must have known he was going to die. Noam was, according to his parents, a very down-to-earth, realistic kid who died too young. He was religious, learned in a yeshiva, and yet…he doesn’t seem to have been this deep mystical person but rather someone who lived in the here and the now…and yet…
In the last month, Noam dreamed twice things that bothered him enough to tell others. They say that the spirit, the neshama of a person, knows a month before it is going to die. A month ago, Noam dreamed that he heard the fluttering of wings and asked someone if he thought it might have been the angels, and last week, he dreamed that he and another soldier went on a mission into an Arab village. In the village, two Arabs jumped out and attacked them and, Noam told the friend with whom he’d entered the village in his dream – only one of them left alive.
In real life, Noam and his friend entered an Arab village; Arabs attacked them, and only one, not Noam, left alive. I left the Levy home feeling lighter than I had when I arrived. These are people of deep faith, who understand their son died in the noblest of causes – defending his land. More importantly, no matter what the final findings are into the manner in which Noam died, they know that there was a greater truth, a great plan at work here.
There is an amazing concept in Judaism that we pull out at times like this. The idea is that God gives each person a special task, a job that must be accomplished. The first time I heard about this, it was from a young, 17-year-old girl who had just lost her brother in a terrorist attack. She was asked by a rather stupid reporter if she wasn’t angry, just a bit mad, at the terrorist or the government, or God. She looked at the reporter and explained this very idea – that we all are given a job and that she was sad for herself, but happy for her brother.
What a lucky person he was, she explained, for him to have finished his task so quickly, in only 19 years. I thought of this concept days after hearing that the father of Elie’s best friend at the time was killed only weeks after his son’s bar mitzvah. That was his job in life, I thought – to see his son to his bar mitzvah. Another friend’s son died in his early 30s, just 3 days or so after his first child was born – and again, I thought, that was his job in life, to bring this child into the world.
I don’t know what Noam’s task in life was – it is something we may never know. I do know that whatever it was, he must have done an amazing job. He leaves behind a family saddened beyond imagination for his loss, and yet one that recognizes the treasure they helped create. It was as hard to leave their home as it was to enter it.
May Noam’s memory be a source of blessing for his family and for our nation. He was, as his mother said, a true son of Israel.
On the long drive home, I called each of my children, one by one. I needed to hear their voices. This weekend again, I’ll have them all home; I’ll gather them all close, and I’ll think of Noam. I didn’t know him, and yet I could feel his presence there with his family. They know they were blessed to have had him, I wonder if they know that Noam was blessed to have had them.