Yom Hazikaron – Personal Commemoration

[translation of article that appeared in Yediot Acharonot, 11 May, 2016 – Remembrance Day]

By: Major General (Res.) Doron Almog Chairman, ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran
Israel’s National Remembrance Day is etched indelibly within me in each of 3 ways – through my bleeding brother Eran; my parents’ personal “Sacrifice of Isaac”; and the test of self-sacrifice.

*My brother Eran, who bleeds within me: The news of Eran’s death I received from my mother in a telephone conversation at the end of the Yom Kippur War. “Eran is gone – Eran is no longer with us,” she said quietly. At that time I was Commander of the Paratroopers Battalion that had fought in the Sinai Desert against hundreds of Egyptian tanks. Eran had been a tank commander fighting in the southern part of the Golan Heights. During the war, rumor had it that we had both fallen.

I transferred responsibility for the Battalion to my assistant commander and went home. There was no funeral. There was no Shiva. The funerals for each of the Yom Kippur War’s fallen soldiers took place some 11 months later, with all buried meanwhile in temporary cemeteries. I went up to the Golan Heights, found Eran’s burnt tank and remnants of his clothing and personal belongings. I continued on to the hospitals to find out what had happened, looking for the soldiers who had survived. They told me that Eran had remained bleeding near his burning tank, only to be carried away lifeless 7 days later.

Eran continues to bleed within me. His cries, his pleas pursue me relentlessly. In my dreams, I try to rescue him, but never do I succeed. My long, constant military service in the IDF was largely shaped by a personal vow that I kept to myself: “Never leave a wounded soldier on the battlefield.”

Eran, my bleeding brother, is and will always be a symbol of the Generation of the Yom Kippur War. A generation which fought with great self-sacrifice to save the only Jewish State in the world. A generation whose fighting compensated for the failure of its leadership, intoxicated as it still was from the success of the Six Day War, with its eyes all but blinded to the current reality.

*My parents’ personal “Sacrifice of Isaac”: My parents were born in the Land of Israel when it was under the occupation of the British Mandate. Their dream was to establish a Jewish State. The eve of November 29, 1947, was for them a dream come true. Nonetheless, the next day found them in the midst of a bloody war. Most of their friends had fallen in the War of Independence. I grew up in a home where every Saturday night, my parents’ friends – comrades of old, who had gone through the war with them – congregated to recount the saddest moments of their lives – the loss, the heartache, and the joy.

Two years after the Yom Kippur War, the Commander of the Paratroopers Brigade at the time, Matan Vilnai, called me in. He informed me that I was the most suitable officer to lead the Commando Unit – the most challenging and dangerous position in the Brigade. “One thing bothers me,” he told me. “You
are the son of a bereaved family, and I don’t know how I would look your parents in the eye if anything ever happened to you.” I told him to go speak to them, then and there. Upon his return, he gave me command over the Unit – the very Commando Unit which, under my leadership, was the first to land in Entebbe during the rescue mission of the hostages 40 years ago.

Only later would I learn from my parents what had transpired during their conversation with Vilnai. Looking back, I realize it was a sort of modern version of the biblical Sacrifice of Isaac. My father had told him as follows: “If every bereaved family in Israel decided that none of their other children would be allowed to serve in combat units, we would never survive. You can give Doron any position you want. Take us out of the equation; your decision-making should have nothing to do with us.” As for my mother, she told him that she believed in destiny. “If something is set to happen to someone, they can slip on a banana peel.” My parents never expressed the slightest doubt about the difficult path I had chosen – the path of giving and sacrifice, which they themselves had instilled in us. For theirs was a generation where the State replaced religion. Their “Kiddush HaShem” was expressed in terms of determination and self-sacrifice for the sake of the Jewish State.

*Self-Sacrifice: On Israel’s National Remembrance Day, we will all gather at the graveside of my brother Eran. Afterward we will go to my parents’ home to sit, eat, speak and laugh together. Pictures of Eran are in every corner of their home. Indeed, he will be with us for as long as we live.

The loss of Eran and of all of Israel’s fallen soldiers is a bleeding wound which will never heal. The willingness to sacrifice our lives for others, for the sake of something larger than us, has been and continues to be the most significant powerful element in the State of Israel, and the primary guarantee for our continued survival as a free nation in an independent state. It supersedes technology, cyberspace, smart bombs, and the Stealth Bomber.

This component of self-sacrifice will grow ever stronger, the more we succeed in building a society which inculcates values of mutual responsibility and love of mankind. A society that cares for the weak and the “different”. When we affirm that “by their death, they bequeathed us life,” this obligates us to continue in our quest to build an exemplary model society in consonance with the vision of our fallen soldiers. A society that will be worthy of their sacrifice.

–Doron Almog is Major General of the IDF Reserves, Chairman of ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran Rehabilitation Village, and 2016 Israel Prize Recipient.

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