By Leah Garber
Yesterday I gave myself a day of grace, allowing my heart—filled with gratitude for the rescue of the soldier from her captors in Gaza—to lead the way, showing me the great good in all of us.
And while half my heart allowed itself a moment of contentment, the other half was heavy, worried, facing the beginning of the ground operation, the most dangerous and nerve-racking phase of the fighting.
A heavy anguish began to take over, and indeed this morning we awoke to the painful news that 15 soldiers had been killed during fierce fighting in Gaza.
So, my eyes tear again, my heart breaks, as I send a virtual hug to the 15 new bereaved families. I am connected to all of them but especially to two of them.
I know Pedaya Mark’s family. His father, Miki, a well-known and respected rabbi in their small village of Otniel, was killed in a terror attack seven years ago when terrorists shot at the family’s car. Pedaya survived that vicious attack, even as he watched his father die in front of him. Chava, his mom, was severely injured. Four years ago, Pedaya’s older brother, Shlomi, a member of Israeli top security forces, was killed in an accident.
Three weeks ago, Pedaya’s cousin was killed fighting against the terrorists who infiltrated Israel, and last night Pedaya joined the family’s death march—the story of Job, here and now.
Being both a widow and a bereaved mother, Pedaya’s mother, Chava, had to sign a letter of consent to allow Pedaya to join a combat unit. Despite her natural fears and concerns, Chava gave in to Pedaya’s request and signed the approval. After all, together with her late husband, they raised their children to be loyal Israeli citizens, committed to fight for our people and our homeland.
One mother, a widow, will bury her second son today. By her side will be her sister-in-law who only three weeks ago buried her son.
The meaning of the name Pedaya is “God will redeem.” How much longer must we wait?!
“Dad, we’re ready.”
This is the last text message 20-year-old Sergeant Lavi Lifshitz sent to his father. Earlier he had written to his mom: “Mom, we know what we are doing. We are good.” Lavi was killed in the fighting in Gaza, along with his teammate Sergeant Roy Wolf. Lavi in Hebrew means “lion,” and like lions they fought.
Lavi was not the stereotypical macho guy; he was a sensitive boy, an artist with dreams to become a photographer. He was conflicted. In a conversation he’d had with his dad, he said: “Dad, I don’t want to become a war animal,” but when he and his unit went into battle, Lavi told his dad that he knew that fighting for our country was the right thing to do. Lavi believed his life wasn’t worth more than any other soldier’s life, and that’s why he needed to fight.
Lavi’s family lives a block from our home in Modi’in. I was there today, one in a long chain of neighbors and friends from our community who were paying respect as the funeral procession left his home. Among the many who stood there, side by side, all waving Israeli flags, were young school children, holding signs that said: “Lavi, we are proud of you.” Young, innocent children—part of this human chain of grief.
With tremendous pain, eyes flooded with tears, we said goodbye to another hero of Israel, one of many, one of the best, who paid the ultimate price so that we can live.
Fifteen young people, with dreams that will never come true. Fifteen flowers, so innocent and pure, that won’t blossom into their full beauty. Fifteen full, rich, meaningful lives that will go unlived. How much more can we bear? How deep is the sea of sadness and the ocean of tears?
The fighting in Gaza continues and will go on for a long time. We know it won’t be easy. We worry greatly for our sons, our families, our friends’ sons, for all our remarkable, beautiful soldiers, all of whom are now involved in harsh fighting. They are imbued with a mission, fighting a just war to protect our home, our existence, our future.
Before going into battle, senior commanders send the battle order over the military communication network. This recording (translated below) motivated Lavi, Pedaya, and their friends as they set off to battle. They carried it in their hearts until their last breath as they ascended to heaven:
This is the Commander of the “Steel Shaper” division, Brigadier General Itzik Cohen.
On the morning of Shabbat and the holiday of Simchat Torah, the vile enemy launched a murderous and heinous terrorist attack against children, women, men, and the elderly. We did not choose this battle, the enemy wanted it, the enemy initiated it. The eyes of the whole world are on us; the people of Israel trust us and stand behind us. Tonight, many forces of Division 162 and the Southern Command went out to get and destroy the hand that was sent to strangle our children. We will hit our enemies with the strength of steel like a clenched fist, there is no task we cannot do, there is no terrorist we will not hit. I’m committed to be by your side on the battlefield, shoulder to shoulder. We will not return home until we have fully completed the task assigned to us. Good luck, I trust you. Giving you permission to cross the border into Gaza, On to your mission. Attack. Attack.
I have no more words except a prayer:
עושה שלום במרומיו, הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל ישראל, ואמרו אמן.
May the One who makes peace on high, make peace on us and on all Israel, and let us say, Amen.
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.