Tragedy has hovered over the young lives of several of the 120 outstanding soldiers who received citations and scholarships at the President’s Residence on Thursday.

The annual Independence Day ceremony pays tribute to the army, air force and navy.

Two of the soldiers, Hagar Zohar and Shai Krichli, were injured last week when the rigging put up for Remembrance Day and Independence Day ceremonies at Mount Herzl collapsed, killing Lt. Hila Bezaleli and causing light to severe injuries to several other soldiers. They were unable to attend because they are still hospitalized..

Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz paid tribute to Bezaleli and wished Zohar and Krichli a speedy recovery. He and President Shimon Peres, who visited the soldiers in the hospital, will give them their citations and scholarship certificates awarded by the Association for the Well being of Israel’s Soldiers through the generosity of the Blavatnik Family Scholarship Foundation. The 120 scholarships, valued at NIS 4,000 each, are donated through the UK Friends of AWIS.

Zohar, though born and raised in Gedera, moved to New York with her family when she was 15, but returned to perform her army service.

Among the other outstanding soldiers was Chaya Schijveschuurder, one of eight siblings, of whom three were murdered together with their parents, Mordechai and Tirza, and 10 other civilians, by a suicide bomber at the Sbarro pizzeria on King George Street in Jerusalem on August 9, 2001. The family had migrated to Israel from the Netherlands and had settled in Neria, also known as Talmon Tsafon, near Modi’in Illit in the West Bank.

The other members of the Schijveschuurder family who did not survive the attack were Ra’aya, 14, Avraham Yitzhak, four, and Hemda, two. Chaya, who was eight at the time, was gravely wounded.

The Schijveschuurder orphans more or less brought themselves up, with minimal assistance from welfare authorities.

The oldest siblings took charge and raised the younger siblings and the family suffered unduly at the hands of Israel’s bureaucracy. Chaya, after recovering from her injuries, cherished a dream to serve in the IDF – which she has done with distinction.

Another female soldier who has distinguished herself and who also came to media attention before being chosen as an outstanding soldier is IDF medic Anastasia Bagdelov, who is also a Magen David Adom volunteer. In August 2011, terrorists opened fire on a bus traveling to Eilat. Most of the passengers were soldiers, and several were wounded.

Bagdelov treated them while waiting for help.

Nitai Giron is the youngest of four brothers who served in the Nahal Brigade, as did their father before them. His father died two months before Nitai was due to begin his stint in the IDF and he was offered a deferral, which he declined.

Ron Broier, 20, lost his brother Dan in the Second Lebanon War in 2006. When Ron was told that he had been selected as an outstanding soldier, his response was that no matter what he does in the army, he’s always thinking of what his brother Dan would say or do.

His big hope was that Dan was looking down on him and that he was proud of him.

Ori Gal, from Kibbutz Beit Hashita between Afula and Beit She’an, has lived with the fear of death for six years. That’s how long his mother has been treated for cancer.

During his year of voluntary national service, his father was also diagnosed with cancer and died 10 months later. His mother is still in treatment.

Zigato Dago Balai, a paratrooper, has six sisters. He also had two brothers, one of whom died from natural causes at age 10, and another who died at age 18. Thus when the time came for Zigato to join the army, his parents were fiercely opposed to him joining a combat unit. But he insisted, and became an outstanding soldier. His parents are still unhappy about his choice but are very proud of their son.

The 120 soldiers, including 43 women, represent a broad swathe of the Israeli demographic mosaic. They come from cities, towns, villages, kibbutzim and moshavim. Not all are Jewish. Some have a Jewish father, but not a Jewish mother. There are two Christian Arabs, and a Christian with a Filipina mother and an Argentinean father. There are also Beduin and immigrants from South Africa, Australia, Mexico, the US, Belgium, France, Ukraine, Russia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Azerbijan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Singapore and Germany.

Yael Boneh, from Zichron Ya’acov is the daughter of Israelis who moved to Australia.

Both her parents served in the IDF and she grew up with the idea that she would one day come to Israel to do the same. She believes that Jews from all over the world should come to Israel to do some form of national service for at least a year and preferably longer.

There were also several haredi soldiers among the 120 outstanding soldiers, including David Shuraki from Ashdod, who is one of eight siblings and whose father is an engineer with Israel Aerospace Industries; Benzi Glickerman, who is one of nine siblings including an identical twin who serves in a paratroop reserve unit; and Shneur Muzikant, who lives in Jerusalem, but was raised in Kfar Chabad. At age 25, he is the oldest of the 120 soldiers and studied at various yeshivot in Israel and the United States before joining the IDF.

He is married with a baby son.

There were also tank driver Idan Reuveni, who served in the same unit as Gilad Schalit; and Tomer Efron the son of pop singer Si Heiman and grandson of composer Nahum Heiman. Most of Efron’s friends refused to join the IDF, but his priorities were different.

Outstanding soldier Yaacov Hai Weizman was a juvenile delinquent who went through seven schools before completing high school. He was known for violence and incitement and had even stabbed someone. The police had opened several files on him.

This IDF refused to accept him but Weizman had his heart set on becoming a combat soldier, and kept showing up at the recruitment office for two and a half years before the IDF allowed him to embark on a preparatory course in which he excelled. Out of 62 soldiers who applied at the time for combat service, he was one of 12 who were accepted and the only one from his battalion.

He continued to excel and is keen to sign up for the career army.

Natalie Levy of Jerusalem was born with cerebral palsy, Avraham Apelcar of Haifa got CP as the result of an accident that caused lack of oxygen to the brain and Aviad Ben-David from Kiryat Akron suffered a severe head injury when he was involved in a traffic accident at age nine.

Doctors thought he would never recover. All three were exempted from army service, but they wanted to served and each used every avenue at his or her disposal to become accepted as IDF volunteers.

Meanwhile, Col. Guy, who was one of the pilots in the IAF’s tribute to fallen comrades on Remembrance Day as well as one of the pilots in the triumphant fly-by on Independence Day, is the son of a pilot who has been missing in action since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Col. Guy was 15 when his father went to war and never returned.

His fate remains unknown.

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