"Eliraz, help me! ... 'Hear O Israel! ("Shma Yisrael")."
I'd known those were Gadi's last words when fatally wounded, fifteen years ago this week. I didn't know who Eliraz was, beyond knowing he was an officer who happened to be with Gadi's unit that fateful day.
Fast forward I'm standing at the entrance to my town, trying to hitch a ride to the memorial ceremony for Gadi. A Golan Brigade officer stops for me. I recognize him as someone who had studied in our program for army and post-army students who wish to enrich their knowledge of Judaism. As he stopped for me I asked, "Where to?"
"The Tel Aviv area", he replied, and I got in.
"Can you direct me to the military cemetery near Bat Yam?" I asked him.
"I'm going there" he answered.
"Are you going to a memorial service also?"
"Yes, the same one you're going to".
I looked at him and wondered aloud, "Wait, what's your first name?"
"Are you Gadi's Eliraz, the one he called to for help?"
Eliraz smiled at me with his unique smile that combined self-confidence and humility, nodding in the affirmative. I thought, "So this is Eliraz! I finally know another piece of the puzzle!"
Eliraz asked me if I could to study Torah with him, an hour a week. I said I'd love to, but with him back in the army and me slightly busy – when?
"Friday afternoons, when I come home from the army" he answered immediately. To tell the truth I didn't think there's time Friday afternoons, what with the scurrying around with the last-minute preparations before the Sabbath.
"Wouldn't your wife prefer you at home during those hours?" I asked.
He reassured me that she would be happy if he could study Torah. So how can you say no to someone putting his life on the line to defend the Jewish state and who wants a bit of your time for Torah study?!
Fast forward a few years and I get a call just before the Sabbath, three days before Passover. "It's not public news yet, but I thought you should know: Eliraz was killed in action on the Gaza border a short time ago". I remember literally falling from my feet, the same as when I was told that Gadi had been killed in action.
Ten days ago I learned another amazing piece of the puzzle that makes up life in Israel. Eliraz's widow, S., asked me to speak at the memorial service held at his grave in the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl. How can you say no, right? I spoke briefly, starting with: "I'd heard the name of Eliraz, in connection with Gadi Ezra, before I actually met Eliraz."
After the ceremony Eliraz's widow, Shlomit, told me that she knew of Gadi calling on Eliraz to help. She said it always haunted Eliraz that he hadn't helped. He couldn't have helped, since the wound was fatal, but still – he felt a moral obligation. She and Eliraz had just recently gotten engaged when they went together during the seven days of mourning to Gadi's family. There they met G., the girl with whom Gadi was planning to get married. Gadi had written a very moving letter to her – to be read if he didn't return from battle. He wrote: "My love …remember that all is for the good… spread the word: never to despair, always be with joy. That's what I ask of you, even if it's hard… I will always love you [from where I will be] just promise me you will continue on… that way [whatever happens] you will be the victor".
Eliraz's widow said they had an idea to suggest a match between G. and Shlomit's brother. Eventually the two met and were married, and with that – Eliraz finally felt that he had done something to help Gadi.
But that's not all. She told me that from the memorial they're all going to the synagogue that had just been dedicated to Eliraz's memory the night before. There they'd celebrate the entering into the "Covenant of Abraham" of the son just born to G. and her husband, Shlomit's brother. All in one day, it's the circle of life in Israel.
May the memories of Gadi and Eliraz be a blessing for all, always.
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