Soulful screams resounded in the chilly afternoon air on Monday as the body of Lt. Shir Hajaj, 22, was lowered into the grave in Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery.
“Your ‘song’ was too short,” her older sister Bar said as she stood at makeshift wooden podium that had been set up near the grave. In a short lyrical eulogy, she continued to make a wordplay out of her sister’s name, which in Hebrew means song.
“Your song was too pretty,” Bar said, adding, “Your song’s end was too bitter.”
Hajaj was one of four soldiers killed in a Sunday terror attack near the promenade in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood.
All of them were buried one day later in four different cemeteries throughout the country. One of the soldiers, Sec.-Lt. Erez Orbach, 20, held US citizenship.
“What a loss this is, I am so sorry. Where are you? Let’s talk about how difficult this is, as if this was a dream in which we didn’t know that your [loss was] what was difficult. I am so sorry that you will not be able to live out your life,” Bar said.
Her cousin Hila said Shir was smart, but also modest and quiet, and that people could tell with one glance how good and filled with love she was.
“There are not enough words to describe the beauty your gentle soul brought to the world,” she said. “There was so much strength in your silence. You seem to effortlessly conquer mountains. We so wanted to see what mountains you would conquer in the future.
“We thought we would see you on the front page of the newspaper holding a prize for an invention that would change the world. How is then that we are seeing your photograph now everywhere next to a memorial candle?” Hila asked.
Lt.-Col. Assaf Weiss recalled how he first met Shir on the phone, when she called to sway him to let her into his unit after missing the deadline because she had been abroad.
Weiss described the Ma’aleh Adumim native as sweet but determined. He said Shir called him every day until she convinced him to grant her an interview that led to her acceptance.
Similarly, when told that she would not be able to enter an officers course, she pushed to get in.
“She got in, but never returned,” Weiss said.
Shir’s unit commander Tali Parchi added that, on Monday, Shir had been scheduled to lead an educational tour of Mount Herzl for soldiers. “Instead we are parting from you here,” Parchi said. “There was no one more worthy than you to be an IDF officer. We salute you. May your memory be a blessing.”
Near Tel Aviv, in the military cemetery of Kiryat Shaul, hundreds of people gathered to mourn Lt. Yael Yekutiel, 20, who was from the central city of Givatayim and only recently completed her officers training course.
She leaves behind her parents and an older brother and sister.
Hundreds of IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens looked on as her bereaved family took to the podium, and as her father struggled to say the kaddish memorial prayer in between tearful sobs.
“We didn’t have enough time with you. You were so loved and you knew it. It was so fun to be with you. You were so sensitive, smart, caring,” he said, eulogizing his daughter.
“We never believed something like this could happen. We still don’t believe it. We don’t know what we will do with you.”
Yekutiel’s older sister Noga then spoke lovingly of her sister, alongside her brother Nadav.
“You loved everyone so much, you loved the world. You were so brave,” she said.
“You were our glue, and you were everything to me. Everything.
You were my best friend and I knew everything was ahead of us. You loved everyone so much, you loved the world. You were so brave. If the world had only knew you, you could have ruled it. You are so special. I love you so much and I will always be with you.”
Following Givatayim Mayor Ran Kunik, one of Yekutiel’s friends spoke of the “Yael who couldn’t drive. Yael who every boy wanted. Yael who loved her schnitzel."
“You always said we didn’t hug enough. I want you to hug me. Just a few days ago you said to me, ‘Can you believe we’ve been friends for five years?’ We went through so much together. And we will still grow together. We will do everything you used to love. My crazy one, this is not goodbye. This is not good-bye.”
Shira Tzur was buried in Haifa, where she was remembered as an outstanding student and an exemplary young woman. Tzur, born to American parents, began her military service in the IAF’s pilot’s course and was later reposted to the Intelligence Corps.
Mendi Rabinovich, principal of the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa that Tzur attended, told The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Maariv: “Her teachers said she always dreamed of being a pilot, but in the end, served in the Intelligence Corps. She was a spirited girl, socially active and very loving.
Everyone regarded her as an exemplary graduate, an outstanding girl, a social leader and also emotionally sensitive to justice and injustices.
“My heart hurts that in this crazy country a soldier in uniform becomes a target for radical Muslim terrorism and we don’t know how to ensure her well-being on the day that she goes to see Jerusalem,” Ravinovich said.
Orbach was buried in the small cemetery in his home settlement of Alon Shvut.
In an interview with Army Radio on Monday morning, his grandfather said that Orbach was an excellent student who loved his family, his Judaism and his country.
Even though he had health problems that could have exempted him from the army, Orbach insisted not only on entering the army, and then the air force, but also on joining elite units and signing up for the officers course.
When asked by the army why he wasn’t making use of his exemption, he told them, “It is my civic duty to enlist.”