By Leah Garber
They enlisted in reserve service on October 7. They came from big cities and small villages. They came from the settlements and a Bedouin village. Young men and older men with families. Religious and secular, Jews and Arabs.
They did not know how long they were called for or what the tasks might be, but they all shared the determination and belief in the rightness of the mission. They all believe we have no other country, and therefore, they were prepared to sacrifice their lives for our beloved homeland.
And they did.
They said goodbye to their parents, gave a last hug to their spouses, held their children close to their hearts, and promised them all: ”Everything will be fine, don’t worry“.
And so they went on the longest reserve service, and on the 108th day of the fighting against a cruel enemy, they were killed.
We woke up this morning, like every morning, with the constant fear—what will the new day bring? Will it begin with the most terrible three words: “Released for publication”? Today it did—and like never before.
An entire country mourns the deaths of 21 reservists in battle.
Following a lovely spring week, even the sun hurts too much to shine. It gave way to clouds and rain. The sky is crying with us today. Raindrops join the sea of tears shed by an entire nation.
Last night, 21 families heard the knock on their doors and received the most terrible news of all, news they had been dreading since the day their loved ones donned uniforms and promised that “it will be all okay.”
One hundred and eight sleepless nights and days of worry turned into a lifetime of pain. A continuous grief that has no end, a pain that will never heal.
Young widows will raise new orphans. Bereaved parents will mourn their sons, and an entire nation will bow its head. Why are we destined to live on our swords? How long will we fight for our home? How much more suffering will we bear?
Grief is in the air.
It is carried in the wind like a soft cry, enveloping us all in deep sorrow. It is hard to describe the heavy feeling in all our hearts, impossible to explain what an Israeli public sphere looks like on a day like today, when everyone’s eyes are teary and sad. There are no words to share the enormous collective pain. On such a day, we all talk more quietly. On such a day, we hug our loved ones tighter. On a day like this, we hold each other, trying to comfort and be comforted at the same time.
On such a day, you get to know Major General Ahmed Abu Latif, a resident of the Bedouin settlement Rahat, who not too long ago talked about his military service: “I met people who became friends for life. After October 7 we are all together. We (the Bedouin community) feel an inseparable part of Israeli society.”
On such a day, one learns about Acting Major General Cedric Green, who was born in the Philippines and moved to Israel with his mother. Green left school in his youth to help support his mother who did not speak Hebrew. When he was a teenager, police came to their home and arrested him for an act of violence. When he saw his mother crying, he promised himself he would change, for her sake. Green overcame his difficulties, begged to be drafted into the IDF, and became a company commander. In an interview after receiving a certificate for outstanding service, Green said: “A lot of soldiers say, “A lot of soldiers say, ‘It’s hard, it’s impossible.’ I always say, ‘It’s possible, it’s always possible.’”
It’s on days like this that you hear about Advanced Master Sergeant Raphael Elias Moshioff, who left behind a wife and a one-year-old baby. Only a few hours before he was killed, he called his father-in-law and said they were cleaning the area and were not yet ready to return home. They must first complete the task and eliminate all the terrorists.
Today we read about Major Mark Kononovitch, who left behind a wife and four children, the youngest only four months old, born two weeks before the start of the war. A baby who will never remember her dad, will never call out for her Aba.
On such a day, the soil, soaked with rainwater and tears of sorrow, is dug easily, as if offering to relieve the tired gravediggers. On such a day, the cloudy sky reaches out to collect the newly dead.
On such a day, the 535 soldiers killed since October 7, who are now angels, salute their friends who also became angels too soon, and escort them through their final journey.
On this sad day, we all embrace the bereaved families who have now joined the saddest club of bereaved Israeli families. Our embrace stretches from north to south, from east to west. It envelops all families, as the nation bows its head, and whispers, “Thank you.”
As Shaul Tchernichovsky, one of the great Hebrew poets of the modern era, has written:
See here, earth, for we have been wasteful so.
We have buried in your soil flowers, so fresh and beautiful…
Here are the best of our sons, youth with pure dreams,
They are good hearted, righteous, not yet scum of the earth…
And you will cover them all. May a plant grow in its time!
A hundred gates of majesty and strength, holy to the people of his land!
Blessed is their sacrifice in the secret of death, our atonement in our life in grace.
I don’t know how—and not today anyway—but I do know we have no choice, and that together, united, we somehow will find the strength to overcome.
Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.