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.”