July 27, 2006

Yesterday, nine Israeli soldiers died while fighting in fierce battles in Lebanon with Hizbollah. Sixty more soldiers were injured, many of them severely.

Looking at their faces and reading about their lives cut short in the newspaper this morning, I wept over my computer keyboard. When we think of soldiers, we tend to think of pawns on a chess board, anonymous muscle-bound Rambos and borderline thugs who live to kill and be killed. But in Israel, where every eighteen-year-old male is required to serve in the Army, the army is composed in large part of sensitive, intelligent, idealistic young people who are willing to risk their lives in order to protect Israel from the enemies that surround it.

It is composed of people like the soldiers killed yesterday. Like company sub-commander 31-year-old Ro'ee Klein, z”l (of blessed memory), who is survived by his wife Sara and two children, Gilad aged three and Yoav aged one. A friend of Ro'ee said yesterday: "The most striking thing about Ro'ee was his gentleness, his calm nature, and the smile that was always on his face. His tremendous love of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel are what motivated him to dedicate himself entirely to his army service, and to ultimately give his life to protect his people and his country." Ro'ee's funeral will take place today, on his 31st birthday.

It is composed of people like 19-year-old Shimon Adga, z”l, who moved to Israel with his parents and seven siblings from Ethiopia. All five of Shimon's brothers had served in battle units in the army. When Shimon was placed in a desk job because of a medical condition, he insisted and, as his brother recalls, "fought to be moved to an infantry unit in order do his part for the country." A friend remembers him as a, "quiet boy, refined, always ready to volunteer and help others in need." Shimon's elderly neighbor recalls how he used to always run out of his house to help her bring her grocery bags into her home. The neighbor would tell him that she could take them from the bottom of the steps leading to her apartment. He would always insist on bringing them up the four flights of stairs to her apartment, and would not go until he had placed the groceries on her kitchen counter

And people like 24-year-old division-commander sergeant Amichai Merchavia, z”l. Amichai, whose name means "My People Lives," had a thin, gentle, scholarly face and wore wire-rim glasses. In the newspaper photo, despite his uniform, he resembles a yeshiva student far more than a soldier. His father said of Amichai, "There are people who live seventy or eighty years, and there are people who accomplish just as much or more in 24 years. We are proud that we have a son like this. Amichai knew exactly what to do in his life, without hesitations." More painful than anything in this father's eulogy for his son is the excruciating switch, from one sentence to the next, from present to past tense.

The Israeli army includes soldiers like 27-year-old Asaf Namer, z”l, who as a dedicated Zionist emigrated from Australia two years ago in order to fulfill his dream to serve in a battle unit in the army. And 24-year-old Alex Shwartzman, z"l, an immigrant from the Ukraine to the northern town of Acco. After his father passed away, his mother recalls that he took care of their family "like a father." When missiles fell on Acco, he called his mother and sister from the fighting in Lebanon to make sure they were OK.

Yesterday evening, with my heart very low on account of the news from Lebanon, I walked to Jerusalem's central market. At 9 PM on Wednesday night the market was so packed with people shopping for Shabbat that it was hard to move. I maneuvered my shopping cart through the crowd, and as I picked out carrots and celery and onions for chicken soup, I felt ashamed. In Lebanon our soldiers, some of the best young men of our generation, are being hunted and slaughtered like animals. And here I am, inspecting lemons as though nothing is going on?

But then, from one moment to the next, I saw the crowd of shoppers differently. There we all were, Jews in the Holy Land preparing for the Holy Shabbos. These soldiers gave their lives for me, for us. They gave their lives so that we could do exactly what we were doing, living as Jews in our country, unthreatened by missiles falling, unthreatened by Jew-hating murderers who killed millions of us over the centuries when we had no army to protect ourselves and nowhere to run to.

These holy soldiers died so that I can live in Israel with my husband and children, unafraid. How will a walk with my children, or a quiet morning at home with my baby, or a bowl of chicken soup on Friday night ever taste the same knowing that so many young men sacrificed their lives in order for me to have that privilege? How much holier, giving, better I must strive to be in order to be worthy of the ultimate sacrifice that these young men and their families gave?