At 3 am in a darkened airplane somewhere over the Atlantic, I’m thinking about my trip. There is so much to think about.
It is my third trip to Israel in 12 months. Two were planned visits with my daughters and their extended Israeli families. The reason for the unscheduled trip, which I wrote about last August, was the death of my daughter’s brother-in-law in last summer’s war in Gaza.
Hadar Goldin was a 23-year-old lieutenant who was killed in a Gaza tunnel on one of the last days of the war. He was killed in action during a ceasefire a month before he was to be married. His twin brother Tzur, also a young officer, also served in the Gaza war.
During the shiva, I learned a lot about what I described as the heart-wrenching side of Israeli life: the resolve, the acceptance, and the overwhelming sadness that accompanies every Israeli soldier’s death. As I reflect back now, I remember how, despite the sadness, I never saw a tear from a family member – at least not in public.
So much has happened since. For one, I have a new grandson, my first grandchild, whom I am going to see for the first time when I arrive. Shalev Hadar Goldin was born in Jerusalem in January. What a moment in my life to celebrate! But, I know for the Goldin family, the joyous occasion of Shalev’s arrival was tempered by their continued mourning.
As I close my eyes, I keep thinking about how painful the last eight months have been for my machatunim, the Goldins, and their children. While being tough in public is what is expected, in private – so I have been told – it is like learning how to breathe and how to walk again.
As I look forward to my visit, I can’t help but reflect on how what I experienced last summer amounts to many unforgettable life lessons. And, looking back, I know there was one particular moment in time that has given me a better understanding of what ultimate sacrifice is all about.
During my many visits to Israel over the years, I became friends with a merchant who owns a Judaica shop in Jerusalem. His name is Jan. He came to Israel from Iran. He has a big smile and a wonderful collection of Jewish collectables, which he is proud to showcase and sell.
Since 2006, I have spent time talking with him in his shop. I have even watched his place for him while he slipped out to take care of something. Every time I visit, his eyes light up as he comes from behind the counter to give me a welcoming bear hug.
I knew from a photo near his cash register that he also had three sons serving in the army. He talked about them when asked, always saying he was proud of them and how he worried about them.
The shiva last summer was not in Jerusalem, and I only had a brief Sunday afternoon there before flying home. That was the only time I could see Jan. As I walked into his eerily silent and empty store – there were no tourists during the war – he was surprised to see me. He sensed something was wrong.
I told him I was in Israel for a bad reason as I recounted my daughter Emmanuelle’s connection to Hadar Goldin. It was as if he was hit by a thunderbolt. He sat down reached for his cell phone and began searching his photos. Something had turned his attention to finding a specific image in his phone.
It seemed like a long time until he located the close-up of a young, bearded soldier serving as a front pallbearer of a simple flag draped military coffin.
“This is my son,” Jan told me. “He is carrying Hadar’s coffin.”
In a strained voice, he told me his son went to Yeshiva with Hadar and Hadar’s twin brother and they became close friends. He then sat down and stared into space, not saying another word until I left. He didn’t have to say anything to be understood. His sons made it home.
His silence and grief were for another family he knew and admired who lost one of their sons on the battlefield.