Who We Have Lost

I was thinking to myself that I’d made a mistake. I can’t do this. I can’t sit here and keep writing about each boy that falls. His name, his family. It hits too close to home, too close to the deepest fears I bury deep within. It’s enough that my son is down there – others can write it. Others who have been to war and know how to deal with this more calmly; mothers whose sons finished their service – who know you can survive these three years, that your sons can go to war and still come back whole in body and mind.

I haven’t spoken to Elie since Saturday night. Each day that passes is so much worse than the day before. I have this ridiculous idea that the army should announce a 10-minute break. No fighting, no shooting – everyone, real quick – call your mother. All those nations and politicians around the world who are demanding a ceasefire – let’s start with a 10-minute, call-your-mother break!

I can’t fight; I can’t shoot … I can barely touch Elie’s M16 when he brings it home. But I can write…and I can do this. I can look at the names and the ages and get through this. They’ve given their lives – I owe them this tribute. It is something that I believe is unique about Israel. We cannot just let them go. In most cases, we were not blessed enough to have known them in life and so we need to hear about them. We need, we want to help their families and we can only do that by listening as they tell us. They sacrificed all for us; the least we can do is listen now, understand how great is their loss. Later, we’ll thank them; later, we’ll tell them that we exist as a country because of men like their sons. Today, the words are theirs, not ours.

Capt. Yehonatan Netanel, 26, is survived by his wife Tziona and their 3-month-old daughter Maayan, as well as his parents and three siblings. Yehonatan, known as Yoni, grew up in Jerusalem, studied in the Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav high school and the pre-military yeshiva in Eli, and became an IDF paratroopers company commander. He had a fellow officer from Ashkelon, and when they met before he went out to battle, Yoni told him, ‘Kassams are falling on you, and we’re coming to solve the problem.’ It was clear to him that that was what had to be done. A year and a half ago, Yoni was awarded his brigade’s top prize for excellence. According to his father, “When his commander asked him if he wasn’t afraid, Yoni said, ‘This is what we have been waiting for the whole time.’ Yoni’s wife, Ziona said, “On Thursday I met him in the Negev and asked Yoni if this would be our last meeting. He was dancing, happy. I told him to be serious. He said it will be alright. I asked him if he was afraid, he said “Nothing’s going to happen to me”…

Yoni sent a message to his wife a few hours before he was killed telling her that everything was all right and now, for her and for her little daughter, nothing is right. And yet, she expressed her gratitude that Yoni had left her with their daughter, Maayan. There must be comfort in having that, knowing that he leaves behind that precious part of himself.

Maj. Dagan Vertman is survived by his parents, three brothers and a sister. He was a “man of Torah [who] believed in the future, the strength and the uniqueness of the Nation of Israel,” said those who knew him. He studied in local schools in the Binyamin (Shomron) towns of Maaleh Michmas and Ofrah, then in the Merkaz HaRav high school, and later in Yeshivot Or Etzion and Har HaMor. He ultimately became a company commander, took off for two years to study in yeshiva, and was drafted for the current war ten days ago. Some three months ago, 32-year-old Dagan Vertman completed his position as the Golani Division’s 13th company commander and began his studies. The first few months went as expected, and Vertman excelled in his studies. When Operation Cast Lead was launched about a week-and-a-half ago, Dagan returned to the brigade and told the company commander, “If you’re going in then I’m going in with you.”

Dagan showed his love of country and his dedication. He went in with his unit, but he didn’t come out and now his family and friends have to live without him.

Nitai Stern, 21, of Jerusalem, was buried at the Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery on Tuesday afternoon. His mother cried out over her son’s grave, “It’s not logical that parents should bury their children. Let no more soldiers die, we have no more strength, it’s enough.” Nitai Stern last spoke with his parents on Saturday night. During their conversation he told them he loved them and would not be able to talk with them for a few days. Nitai’s father Reuben said, “He was my boy, this is a very difficult time, all of Israel is grieving, and we are in particular.” Stern’s grandmother said, “A few weeks ago he came to my new apartment and told me, ‘What a beautiful home you have.’ He was a charming, non conceited, exemplary boy who was respectful with everyone.” Nitai’s cousin Elior told Ynet, “Nitai was a sweet boy, who was full of good and light, smiles and joy, with a crazy zest for life and dreams. He insisted on recruiting to Golani, even though he was supposed to go to engineering. “Nitai was a warrior for the people of Israel, a hero and a martyr. We are so proud of him. We know he was fighting the war of this people.” Nitai, whose brother also participated in the Gaza operation, studied at the Beni Hayl Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Nitai will be laid to rest at 7:30 at the Mount Herzl military cemetery. Nitai leaves behind him two brothers and two sisters.

My youngest son’s tutor teaches at the Beni Hayl Yeshiva. His son is a tank driver and is down in Gaza now. He called me yesterday to see how I was doing and I felt so silly. He is calm. I could rationalize this and say that he was in the army; he knows what it is like, but maybe the truth is that I need to do something with all these feelings I have inside and worrying is just as good an activity as any.

Yusuf Muadi, 19, was buried in the Galilee Druze village of Yarch, his family’s hometown. His father said he blames no one, and that it was son’s fate to die in war. Samir Moadi said that he spoke with his 19-year-old son for the last time on Saturday afternoon, shortly after he entered Gaza with his comrades. “He told me quietly, ‘Dad, we are getting on buses, you will be proud of me’, and we really are very proud of him,” the father said. Samir added that despite the pain of losing their son to an Israeli shell, “We believe in fate and this must be his fate.” Monday night an officer arrived at the Moadi family’s house in Haifa to deliver the bad news of their son’s death. Shortly afterward the family set off to Yarka in the western Galilee where their extended family resides. Tuesday morning hundreds of friends and family arrived to give their condolences. Yousef’s cousin Nadim said the soldier had a promising future ahead of him in the army. “He consulted with me before recruitment whether to go to Golani or another unit, and I recommended he go for Golani,” the cousin said. “He was a good guy, a good soul, and a very serious and brilliant person. I was sure he was going to go very far, not just as common soldier, but beyond.” Family members said that since the fighting broke out in Gaza Yousef has been on his parents’ minds. “Yesterday the two of them had a bad feeling,” Nadim said. “Both the mother and father were very worried. She had a bad feeling in her gut. A very bad feeling, and she told Samir she was very worried about her son’s fate. “Then we heard rumors of fatalities, and my brother called his unit to find out what happened, and if something happened to Yousef. They avoided him, they were afraid to tell him the truth.” The Moadis are a well respected family among the Druze community, and the father Samir’s cousin, Sheikh Jaber Muadi served in the past as a Knesset member and minister.
He was just 19 years old. His father believes it was his fate to die this way, but that doesn’t lessen his son’s willingness to serve, nor does it soften the loss.

Staff Sergeant Alexander Mashvitzky, 21, of Beersheba died today. “He was a man of stature, a real friend. He loved the country. I remember his laughter and still can’t believe he’s been killed. This is a great loss to this country and to us. We miss him and we’re slightly in shock,” said Diana Karkoz, Staff Sergeant Mashvitzky’s friend. Relatives and friends flocked to Alexander’s home in Beersheba to comfort his family. His friends said he loved the army. “If I say he was the salt of the earth I would be hurting him,” said Gal Sasportas. “He was an outstanding student and decided to be the highest combatant.” The Mashvitzky family immigrated to Israel from the USSR IN 1991. “He viewed everything with humor,” said another friend. “He was extremely motivated about the army and was not afraid.” Alexander’s mother, Ludmila, is a high school teacher, and his father is a professor at Ben-Gurion University.
He was from Beersheva, a city hit by rockets for the first time in the last few days. Like so many, he was in Gaza to protect and defend his country – but in many ways, he must have been even more aware than most, that he was defending his home and his family.
May their memories be blessed and their sacrifice rewarded. They gave their lives for their country and we mourn their loss more than can be imagined. May their families be comforted and may they know no more sorrow.

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