We all pass people throughout every day walking along the streets, sitting in a restaurant, watching a movie or perhaps even in shul whom we do not know and assume that we will never see again. Every once in a while we meet someone who makes a lasting impression on us.
That is exactly what happened to me on Friday night, Shabbat evening, Parshat Chayei Sara, as I attended a shalom zachor. I was introduced to a young man visiting from Israel. Aviad was not just here for a social visit leaving behind a wife and three young daughters in Afula. He was here as a chaplain from the chevra kadisha in the IDF. His mission was to identify soldiers who were so terribly maimed during this awful war, in conjunction with the expertise of the Armed Forces Repository of Specimen Samples for the Identification of Remains and the Armed Forces DNA identification laboratory at Dover Air Force Base through some fragments of bone. Together they were able to identify one soldier through their grueling and painful work. His mission was accomplished.
Aviad told me that generally during “normal times,” the chevra kadisha in the IDF deals with few and much more simple cases. Unfortunately there have been cases of members of the IDF who are injured from friendly fire, from an accident that might take place on a tank or chas v’chalila the case of young men who suffer from mental health conditions and die by suicide.
What he is experiencing now is nothing that he or anyone else could have been prepared for.
When he was introduced to me and I was told that he was a chaplain in the IDF and what his role was I was totally taken aback. He was just a simple guy, friendly and quiet. He told me that after spending the last two weeks near the Dover Air Force Base he decided to spend Shabbat in our community, where he knew that he would be close to a shomer Shabbat community and to Newark Airport, from where he was anxious to make his way home. I do not think that he was at all prepared for the warmth and concern of the community.
When he was called to undertake this mission he was never even able to go home to his family to properly say goodbye. He left the base with a small suitcase as his plane was to leave three hours after he received his assignment. I hoped and he concurred that he did have the opportunity to get another suitcase while here and happily filled it with treasures for his wife and young daughters.
At the shalom zachor he was very excited because he mentioned that one of the rabbonim present had given him a bracha to have a son. He also shared with me that the general of the army base with whom he worked calls his wife each day to make sure that she and their children are OK.
Most of us, when learning more and more of the number of chayalim who have been killed, note the young boys who could easily be our sons, our grandsons and our neighbors. Nineteen, 20, 21, all with their lives ahead of them. None of us can imagine what it could possibly be like when three chayalim are riding together on a tank in the midst of this war and suddenly they are hit by enemy fire. Can any of us imagine a 20-year-old boy watching as his friend right next to him has blood gushing and slowly succumbs to his wounds? How does one ever recover from that? Limbs being blown off, yet miraculously many survive and go on to live creative and successful lives despite their handicaps. I am sure that it is beyond all of our comprehension. I am sure that when the young woman from Atlanta, Rose Ida Lubin, was sent to do guard duty in Yerushalayim her parents breathed a sigh of relief because she was no longer near Aza and not far north. Who could predict that a meshugana terrorist in the midst of Yerushalayim would stab her to death?
Then I think about the “older” victims of this war who have left wives caring for many children. The members of the reserves, many with years of work experience and communal involvement, not hesitating upon getting the call to leave and fight for our home. I think about Moshe Yedidya Leiter, a 39-year-old father of six from Ein Tzurim whose uncle and aunt, Reb Chaim and Suri Leiter are personal friends. Moshe Yedidya’s father, Dr. Yechiel, was a former adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government years ago and as a political assistant to Ariel Sharon. Now Yechiel is a grieving father. I would suggest that anyone who is able should read a copy of the eulogy which he gave at his son’s levaya. He “spoke” to President Biden as one hometown Scranton boy to another. He talked about the same Main Street that they both walked on and mentioned his mother who still lives in Scranton. It is worth reading.
Sergeant-Major (Res.) Yosef Chaim Hershkowitz, the principal of the Pelech Boys School in Jerusalem, was a 44-year-old father of five from Jerusalem. At the outset of the war, Hershkowitz sent a clip to his students, stating, “I miss you all and hope to see you soon.” Hashem had a different plan for him.
What I am trying to emphasize is that in this war there are no barriers as to who are losing their lives, in the cases of the reservists who are leaving wives, children, in some cases grandchildren. We are talking about people who could be our neighbors, who get into their cars each morning, drive off to work, run to minyan, some struggling with finances, and like a puff of smoke they are no more.
These are all ordinary people, young and older. They are our brothers, sisters, fathers, grandfathers, aunts and uncles. How can we ever repay them for the sacrifices they have made for all of us? There is no way. I am overwhelmed by the chesed everywhere in this community but it doesn’t come close to obliterating the pain and suffering that the citizens of Israel are living through each second. They are all ordinary people just like us. The only difference is that they are living in our home and we are living in our home through them extemporaneously. There is no comparison. We must never forget the sacrifices they are making each day while we live our lives with great pain but in chutz l’aretz. This is not home.
Nina Glick can be reached at [email protected].