From generation to generation

For years, I’ve spent Remembrance Day at the grave of a fallen friend. This year, my son has joined the club, with a fallen friend of his own.

April 22, 2015 15:59
Yom Kippur War

IDF tanks cross the Suez Canal. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Two years ago, just before Remembrance Day, I wrote a column about Tzvi Tzimmer. I told a bit about his life; how in 1971 he had befriended me, an American high school student on a kibbutz for the summer; how a little more than two years later, in the Yom Kippur War, he fell in battle with the Egyptians near the canal; and how, for a good number of years since, I have stood before his grave each Remembrance Day morning when the nationwide siren brings life here to a halt.

This time, my Remembrance Day musings are about Evyatar Moshe Turgeman.

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EVYATAR, SON of Meir and Ora, of Moroccan, Iraqi and Persian background, grew up in a modern Orthodox home in Beit She’an. Beit She’an had been established in the early 1950s in the sweltering Jordan Valley, one of the numerous, sleepy “development towns” in the periphery where the governments of the time tended to shunt new immigrants from North African and Arab lands.

The world that produced Evyatar was the polar opposite of the secular, socialist, predominantly Ashkenazi kibbutz world that produced Tzvika. But just like Tzvika, Evyatar was the youngest of four siblings, brother to Yinon, Avia and Itai. Like Tzvika, he loved sports, music and sharp clothes.

And like Tzvika, he was full of personality and laughter, and was the magnet that brought people together.

As a teen he was active in the Bnei Akiva youth movement. After graduating from a religious high school with full matriculation certification, he chose the hesder framework, which merges military service with further religious study.

For those studies, he entered the program at Yeshivat Hakotel, which overlooks the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Perhaps fittingly, he opted for army service in the paratroops, whose reserve brigade, the 55th, had captured the Western Wall and the rest of the Old City from the Jordanians in 1967.

Donning a uniform in March 2013, he was assigned to the standing brigade’s 202nd Battalion, where he was trained to operate the Negev – a locally developed machine gun with a rate of fire high enough and a punch powerful enough to keep the enemy’s heads down, but just light enough to allow a tall, broad-shouldered, muscular soldier to charge forward at the vanguard of an attacking force.

About two-thirds into his year of training, Evyatar and his fellow recruits, who already had earned their jump wings, set out on a grueling, all-night, 90-kilometer march in full battle gear. It ended the next morning at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill, which paratroopers had captured in 1967 after a particularly bloody battle with an elite Jordanian unit, and which has been maintained as a museum and memorial ever since.

In the afternoon, the recruits were awarded the coveted red beret in a colorful ceremony overseen by the brigade commander himself and attended by family and friends. Except that while on his way to the ceremony, Meir, Evyatar’s father, was grievously injured in a traffic accident – something that kept the young soldier in constant motion for the next several months, dividing his time between the remainder of his rigorous training regimen and his father’s bedside.

According to Meir, it was his son’s devotion and dedication that gave him the will and strength to endure a long and painful period of recuperation and rehabilitation.

After participating in Operation Brother’s Keeper – the lengthy search for Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, who were kidnapped in the southern West Bank on June 12, 2014, and whose bodies were found on June 30 northwest of Hebron – Evyatar and the rest of his platoon, all members of the hesder program, were released from active duty to return to their studies. But within eight days they were called back to assist the brigade, which had been given responsibility for the Khan Yunis front during Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.

No longer members of an organic combat unit, the returning hesder soldiers were generally assigned to support tasks, some working in supply and logistics, others with the units responsible for evacuating the dead and wounded. Owing to the fact that the deputy battalion commander, Maj. Nissim Aluk, was from Beit She’an and knew the Turgeman family, Evyatar wangled an assignment to be one of his radiomen, tasked with remaining within arm’s length to facilitate open communications between Aluk’s forward command group and the rest of the battalion, as well as with the brigade leadership.

On Tuesday, July 22, the command group was in a structure that had just been cleared when it was raked by automatic fire from an adjacent building. Evyatar was hit in the upper chest. He had just enough strength to mumble to Aluk: “That’s it, Nissim, I’m dead.”

Just 20 years old, Sgt. Evyatar Moshe Turgeman was the 27th IDF soldier out of an eventual 66 who would fall in Protective Edge. He was posthumously promoted to staff sergeant.

TOWARD THE end of the story I wrote two years ago about my friend Tzvika, I introduced another character, my 18-year-old son Guy, who the previous month, just a week before he was to don a uniform of his own, had taken a drive with me to the kibbutz and its cemetery.

“As we stood before my friend’s grave...

everything suddenly meant far more to me,” I wrote of our visit. “The heaviness was heavier, the lump in my throat bigger.

Somehow Guy picked up on this, and as my sweet, bright, robust and highly motivated boy silently put his arm around me – just days from starting his own journey in defense of the country – I cried.”

With the dust and smoke (if not some of the confusion) of Protective Edge having settled, my boy – now a rugged young man, really – has the grave of one of his own friends to weep over. Evyatar’s.

As raw recruits, they had been thrown together into the same battalion and company, and had become fast friends.

Like Evyatar, Guy was assigned a Negev light machine gun, and they spent days and weeks together honing their skills. As generations of soldiers have proudly said, they ate from each other’s mess tin. They parted company when Guy was sent off to a squad commanders’ course, but were reunited in time for Operation Brother’s Keeper, during which they spent close to three weeks together, scouring the homes, shops, hills and wadis of the greater Hebron area for the three boys who were later found slain.

Guy visits Evyatar as often as possible.

The grave is just a short walk from our home, on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, the very first in the first row of graves in Zone D, Section 7.

He collects stones from wherever he takes his squad, whether it’s the dry, rugged terrain of the eastern Judean desert or the damp and chilly highlands of the northern Golan, and when he comes home, he places them on the grave, all with penned inscriptions explaining where and when they were found. It’s Guy’s way of saying, I suppose, that if he and Evyatar can no longer trudge this harsh but beautiful land together, he will bring some of the land to him.

ON ONE of those visits, I joined Guy. It was similar to the scene at the kibbutz cemetery, just in reverse. This time it was my arm around his shoulders as his tears flowed.

My own tears were not long in coming.

I guess this is another way of looking at the introduction to the “Mourner’s Kaddish” prayer, introduced with the words “midor l’dor,” “from generation to generation.”

I had hoped it would end with mine. I can only hope now that it will end with Guy’s.

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