By Leah Garber
Thirty-five-year-old Major Omri Michaeli, a fighter in one of the IDF’s elite units, was killed during the fighting in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Omri was injured in battle and was brought by helicopter to the hospital wrapped in the Israeli flag. This photo became one of the symbols of the 2014 operation. Despite being seriously injured and losing a lot of blood, Omri continued to fight to cover for his injured friend, and then rescued him safely: “The body works automatically, denying pain and limitations,” he explained in retrospect. After a few minutes of fighting, he managed, with the help of another fighter, to evacuate his wounded friend, and only then did he agree to be evacuated so he too could receive treatment. For his bravery, Omri was awarded the army chief of staff’s Excellence in Battle Award. Last week, Omri wasn’t as lucky, as he died as, once again, he fought heroically to defend his country.
Early Saturday morning, terrorists broke into the home of the Elkayam-Arava family on Kibbutz Nir Oz. Noam, the father, was shot in the leg. His son, 17-year-old Tomer, was taken by the terrorists, who captured him by pointing a gun at his head, which lured other families out of their shelters as Tomer, unaware of the presence of other terrorists, begged for his neighbors’ help. The second the neighbors opened the door to let Tomer in, the terrorists killed them all. A monstrous method taken from the Nazi regime.
In a horrifying video that was recorded by the terrorists on the cell phone of Tomer’s mother, Dikla, and distributed via her Facebook Live feed, the terrorists are seen sitting the family members in the living room and forcing them to identify themselves. Dikla was taken captive with her family but was later identified as one of the victims killed. Her funeral was planned for yesterday, but then the family received another update: Tomer’s body was found as well, and thus the mother’s funeral became one for both mother and son. Noam, the father, and the family’s 8-year-old daughter, Ella, and 14-year-old daughter, Dafna, are still missing.
Yesterday Hamas posted a video of Miya Shem, one of the 199 Israelis in captivity in Gaza. Miya was injured when she was abducted from the Nova party, and in the video, she pleads to return home. Hamas is now stepping up its brutality with psychological warfare. Will her blue eyes smile again? Will they bring light back to her mother’s closed eyes before they fall into each other’s arms?
These are some of the stories of the murdered and kidnapped as we continue to try to wrap our heads around the numbers: At least 1,300 killed, 199 abducted, thousands injured, more than 500,000 evacuated, and nine million Israelis traumatized.
Numbers of this magnitude require us to look at the faces and names to fully understand. We must read about them, share their stories, appreciate who they were, carry the burden of the pain, and cry for their loss.
Life in Israel has never been easy. We are a traumatized people. We long for peace, greet each other with the word for peace, pray for peace three times a day, and call our capital, Jerusalem, the “City of Peace.” We also share the pain of war, mourn its continuation, and swear never to give up the dream of being a free people in our land.
Tal, my 5-year-old grandson, went with my daughter to visit friends in Jerusalem. After arriving there, he breathed a sigh of relief that there were no sirens on the way, and immediately upon entering the friend’s house, looked for the home shelter. In what reality does a 5-year-old seek refuge when he comes to play with a friend?
Yaara Shabo was a young girl in 1997 when she wrote these poignant lyrics for a children’s song as part of a music festival in Israel:
It’s not so simple to be a child here
To hear to the news every half an hour
To know that somewhere, another mother prays
The ticking of a clock beats fast, a tear and another tear
It’s not so simple to be a child here
To study in school about the wars
It’s not so simple but, but
in front of the light blue skies
I only know that it’s here that I want to live”
Together, united, we will overcome.
Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.