Ever since the second Lebanon War, our thoughts were with the 3 soldiers who had been kidnapped. Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit. Last summer as the negotiations with Hezbollah were progressing for Ehud and Eldad, there was a sense in Israel that our boys would be coming home soon, though we didn’t know whether they would be alive or not. On July 16th, the prisoner swap was set to take place. That morning I believe most Israeli’s were glued to their televisions to see what would happen. Even though many people had a feeling they were dead, we still held out hope that by some chance they would be alive. As the car was opened and the black caskets emerged a nation started to cry. After two years of hoping and praying it finally came to an end in a way that pained our nation dearly.
The next day the funerals were broadcast on Israeli television and while it was extremely difficult to watch there was something that was making you watch. Two long years had ended with two painful funerals. Sons not coming home from battle. Brothers not being able to return to their siblings. And a husband leaving his wife too soon. And all the while, Noam and Aviva Shalit were at the funerals, hoping and praying their son Gilad will have a home coming that will bring tears of joy and not tears of sorrow.
To every name there is a story of how the soldier was killed but behind every name is the story of how that person lived. What their passions were, what their dreams were and the impact they left on all of us. But there is something that has bothered me for many years. When I would read the newspaper in America that American soldiers had been killed it would generally say “The United States Department of Defense has released the following names of soldiers killed in action…”It would then list their name, age, rank and hometown. I would read this and it would bother me to no end. These are men and women who gave their lives to defend our way of life, to defend our freedom and this was all they would get? They were written as only a name, a number as if they were all the same. How can it be that people sacrifice their lives for their country and don’t get more than that?
Whenever a soldier is killed in Israel there is an article in every newspaper about who that person was with their picture to make it personal, to make him a person and not a statistic. To make you understand that they weren’t just a soldier killed defending their people, but a person who was special, loved by many and had their lives ended too soon. And while these articles can be painful to read and bring you to tears, there is something that makes you read it. That makes you want to know who this person was so they weren’t a number but were children whose parents will forever have an empty seat in their home. They are parents who won’t be there for their children as they grow up. They are part of a family that will forever have an empty place in their heart, that will never be complete. In Israel we generally call everyone “Achi, my brother” even to random strangers because when your brother is killed, we all feel the pain.
On Tuesday the cemeteries will be filled by family and friends paying their respects and fondly remembering those who are no longer with us. At 10:00 AM the country will come to a stop as a nation mourns over those who aren’t with us to see this miraculous thing called the State of Israel. As we are about to celebrate 61 years of Independence we hope and we pray that no more soldiers will be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country and their people. May their memory be a blessing for us all.