The Value of Each Life

In Israel, each life is precious…to a magnitude that is foreign in most countries. We hear on the news about each traffic death, most criminal murders, EVERY terrorist incident that leads to injury. After we hear about the injury or the death, we learn about the person. It is as if we cannot let them go, until we know them better. For those of us who did not have the opportunity, the privilege of knowing them in life, we meet them in death.

It is agony. It is painful. It is sad. It is so right. Their lives had values. They were loved. Their families mourn for them today and forever. We too have lost something precious and so it is only right that we meet them after parting, if not before.

Elie was reading the newspaper and came across the latest statistics of casualties in the ongoing Iraq War. He was stunned by the numbers. He read them off to me.

“Four thousand, four hundred and thirteen American soldiers,” he said.

I was shocked by the numbers. If you do not live in Israel, you cannot imagine what that number means to an Israeli. We mourn for a single loss, we agonize over more, we are broken in pieces by three or four, or, God forbid more. “Four thousand, four hundred,” I repeated back to Elie.

“And thirteen,” he added.

It was in that moment that I realized I have created a human being, one that cares about each life. One that has taken the values of our country to heart. Of course, “and thirteen” – how could I have not mentioned them.  You see, for each family – their loved one is in that thirteen. It is by the individual that the society is measured. Each life.

Last week, we lost a Lieutenant Colonel – but more, we lost Dov Harari. We now know he was 45-years-old when he was killed, where he lived. We know he had four children and that at his funeral, his 18-year-old daughter cried for him. “I can’t believe you won’t get to see me don my uniform in a few months.” We know that he was in the Reserves and long ago could have stopped serving his country. He chose, each year, to return, to continue to volunteer, and ultimately lost his life serving his country.

The discussion with Elie was special because it was a special moment in which I realized that we as a nation have succeeded in teaching our children the value of a life. As important as the four thousand and four hundred are, the thirteen are no less so.

Elie was amazed by the number of casualties – over 31,000 wounded. These are numbers he cannot fathom, the pain to family and community so immense. He thinks in Israeli terms. Numbers like these would crush our nation. One could do a simple mathematical equation to show that 31,000 Americans would be the mathematical equivalent of some huge number of Israelis, but it is so much more.

Each time I hear of an American soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, I wonder if others know who he was. So much more than a statistic – he was a person, a son, perhaps even a husband. How many children did he have, how will they survive without him? Long after the name fades from our minds, families are left forever devastated, forever in pain.

As a soldier, as an Israeli – this was all in Elie’s simple comment “and thirteen.”

May each


  1. I am worried that Israel is degenarting to a more and more militaristic country (a bit like Prussia in the 19th century).

    It might be normal that in families of professional soldiers, joining the army is viewed an important moment in life. But still, I am a bit shocked that the daughter of Dov Hariri would not refer to a moment that is meaningful in a “normal” person’s life, like Bagrut or Chatuna, whatever…

  2. I stumbled upon your blog recently and have been enjoying reading about the adventures of your sons.

    Nationally, the 5571 soldiers, sailor, airmen, and Marines lost in OIF/OEF often lose their individuality. On the news, they are so often only statistics.

    But those of us in the military family know better. You have to go to their communities, where they are students, teammates, and former coworkers. It often seems that the fallen are only embraced as the whole people they were in their hometowns. That is sad.

    Of the 4413 soldiers you and Elie were discussing, one was my friend. It will be 3 years next week. His name is Will. He was 21. He was one of the most competitive people I’ve ever known. He would do anything, give anything, to help a friend. He had a smile that came from his soul.

    Thank you for remembering him, and all the fallen.

  3. I often see news reports of American (or other non-Israeli) casualties and wonder at the number of them. I know many Americans who are violently patriotic and support their boys and girls overseas, but not only do I wonder at the amount of those killed or wounded, but at the sheer numbers of those at home, and the distance. Can each soldier there have a name, a history for the collective mass of Americans. Here in Israel the numbers are smaller (albeit proportionately), but we are fortunate that an entire country can know who sacrificed for them. Or are we? It’s a double-edged sword.

  4. I always love the poignant way you can put into words the profound thoughts that make this blog so special.
    I would like your permission to share this post with a friend whose husband is an American Air Force pilot trainee. She has been a serviceman’s wife since they were married a little over a year ago. I think it would highlight another perspective for them.

  5. Yes,
    i realised the difference in how Israelis value life after the suicide bombing spate and the 2nd Lebanese War. Still it makes me proud that my hubby was a combat soldier in the reserves but Im not sure I want my son to be in combat!

  6. To Onlooker – to an 18-year-old, the army is the next big step in her life. Her friends are all preparing to go to the army for two (girls) or three (boys or girls going into combat units). Most know where they are going, or are still trying out for elite units. It is not unusual that she cannot thing of other big moments in her life to come – of marriage and children. For her, the big “next” thing in her life is the army. It would have been something very special she would have shared with her father. As a Lt. Col, it is clear that Dov Harari spent a meaningful amount of his life in the army. It is not surprising at his funeral, his daughter spoke of this moment. I don’t think it speaks anything of our society – merely a moment in a daughter’s life when she realizes in the next few months, she will be without her father. There is time enough for her, and a lifetime of events yet to come – where he won’t be there. I can’t fault her or judge her or believe that this one thing says something about our society…or even her. It only speaks of the pain she knows is coming…soon…and what she has yet to fully comprehend…for the rest of her life.

  7. I’ve visited this blog for some time now as you have been a good source of information that you just don’t see coming out of the Middle East.

    Being an American my self, let me try and to explain. Its not that we are heartless, or cold to each death, we cherish each and every life we sent into harms way. And when one is lost, we feel it. But we went into this war with good intentions (To remove a monster and threat), and to balk at a lose of a soldiers life and turn away from the greater goal, succeeding in the mission (A free and stable Iraq), would put his/her sacrifice to waste.

    Our nations army is a %100 Volunteer Army. We don’t conscript, no draft. Those serving are doing so because they feel so strongly in what they are doing and do so with pride.

    It may seem callus in saying it, and difficult to explain. But let me try.

    Lets say your son was out on a mission, it was to protect a village from Hezbollah fighters bent on wiping out the people there. In the middle of a heavy fire fight, you son noticed a young girl from the village in harms way. He then lept from his safe location to run to the girl and protect her, in the process of saving the girl, he was shoot and killed, but succeeded in saving the girls life.

    After the fight with Hezbollah fighter pulling back, she returns to her family grateful for the sacrifice your son made.

    Back home, hearing of your son’s sacrifice, his commanders reeling from his loss decides the cost was too great and order all troops back. Those who were there and witnessed know if they fall back, then the Hezbollah will simple advance once more and wipe out the people, including the young girl your son sacrificed his life in-order to save.

    Now answer your self this, how would you feel about your leaders tossing aside your son’s sacrifice, simply saying that what he gave his life for wasn’t worth it to begin with and simply turned tail and walked away.

    That is the situation we find our selves in, in Iraq. Many would argue that our losses are too great, and it isn’t worth the sacrifices made by our Heros. But to walk away before completing the mission would be the same as saying what they gave their life for, and felt so strongly about, wasn’t worth the cost.

    To that, we have seen what happens when we simply walk away because we say, the cost isn’t worth it. Look at Vietnam, and the fall of Saigon. The horrible situation that took place after we walked away. One we vow never to repeat.

    We weep with each loss, and do what we can to minimize them. But to that, we refuse to say those who gave their life for what they felt so strongly about, wasn’t worth it. And will always cherish them and their sacrifices, and honor them as they deserve.

    As Heros.

  8. Hi Nick,

    Thanks for commenting. After writing this blog for more than three years now, I am amazed by the people who have contacted me over the years – the families of American soldiers who are so able to understand the common enemy we fight.

    I’m not arguing that the US went to war needlessly in Iraq and we too are familiar with the enemy hiding behind civilians taunting us to either endanger our soldiers…or withdraw.

    Many months ago, I wrote a post about the blessing in having your enemy close by. One thing is that our sons come home regularly – months don’t go by without our seeing them. Another blessing is that the Arabs here don’t attack their own villages – they are too busy attacking ours and we surrender none of them so your scenario wouldn’t happen in Israel. We are not fighting on foreign soil, but for our homeland directly.

    We also share the disappointment and anger when our governments walk away before finishing the job. This is what happened during the Second Lebanon War and more recently during the Gaza War. We knew, even days after that last war, that we had given into the pressure of the incoming Obama administration and in doing so, would face rockets and missiles again…as we do now.

    Thanks again for your comments!

  9. Your postings are so moving and well written.

    Our media (or government) has kept the wars sanitized with minimal news coverage. To many, the total deaths in these wars is minimal compared to previous wars. However, for every death it is estimated that 5-10 soldiers are grievously wounded. Those who would have died on the battlefield in past wars are saved by advanced medicine and rapid removal from the field.

    Those of us who pay attention and seek out war news are aware of the ripple effect of each death and serious injury. Five friends of a soldier I communicated with through his tour were killed. They are not forgotten. Yet there are many people I connect with daily who would not comprehend the depths and sacrifice of these losses. It seems for many, the wars are out of sight, out of mind.
    I can only hope I’m wrong in that statement.

    Thank you again.

  10. I have followed your blog for a while now as I love your insight to what is happening in Israel. As an American with limited coverage of what it is like in you country, thank for your time bringing me your Israel. Thank you for the acknowledgment of our lost solders. They are remembered, prayed for and missed by those who knew them and by those of us who have heard of their sacrifice. As you know, you don’t have to know them personally to miss them as the valued people they are. As Nick says our military is voluntary so many know the conditions they are signing up for. It does not make loss any easier, but the sacrifice that much greater and appreciated. As all our soldiers and Israel, you are in my prayers.

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