On Friday, January 7th, 2011, a moving ceremony was held in the Negev’s Lahav Forest, where a restful corner and a recreation area were dedicated to the memory of the late Alex Mashevitzky, who fell in battle in Operation Cast Lead as he commanded a team from the Engineering Corps. Close family members and friends attended the ceremony, together with officers and combatants from his unit. Representatives of KKL-JNF were also present, including Michael Ben Abu, Director of the organization’s Israel Fundraising Department, who presided over the ceremony.
Lahav Forest was the natural choice for the memorial, both because the Mashevitzky family lives in Beersheba and because Alex’s friends often visit the forest and stroll along its paths. The memorial was established at the behest of the family, and KKL-JNF mobilized willingly to bring the project to fruition. The past few months were spent preparing the site, which is located in a particularly attractive part of the forest. A KKL-JNF table, signs and a memorial to Alex’s memory were inaugurated, and the participants planted a number of young trees.
Before the ceremony began, Alex’s family and friends spoke about him, describing his unique character, the person he had been and the companion they had lost. All recalled trips they had taken together, and spoke of Alex’s great love for the Land of Israel and its landscapes.
Tal Yehuda, a friend from school, described how Alex had excelled at everything he did: “He was an outstanding student who always strove to be the best, and succeeded, effortlessly,” he said. “He started out in the army on a pilots’ course, because he wanted to be a combat soldier, even though, with his exceptional grades, he could have joined the academic reserves.” He described Alex’s love for the Land, his exploration of it, and his volunteer work in the Aharai! (“Follow Me!”) youth organization. “Alex belonged to that rare breed of person who sets his own interests aside and fights for what he believes. His love for his fellow human beings, for the Land and for nature – these are what motivated him. We shall always remember his striving for excellence, his kindness, and his ready smile.”
Ben, who served together with Alex in the IDF, described his fallen comrade as “the team’s resident genius and professional,” and portrayed him as a person who got along with everyone, a quiet young man who liked everyone and had the gift of bringing others together. He described the circumstances in which Alex was killed, when his unit’s team, together with Golani soldiers, entered the Saja‘iya neighborhood on the outskirts of Gaza City. When they went into a building to dismantle the explosives it contained, “Alex, who was in charge of the operation because of his rank, went in first and was shot by terrorists concealed inside the building,” said Ben. After an exchange of fire, the two terrorists were killed.
During the ceremony Ben recalled experiences he had shared with Alex, and told those present: “I look back with longing to my birthday, which we celebrated two days before we went into the field in Gaza, I remember our trip together to the Dead Sea and our competition to see who could be first to prepare a chocolate-spread sandwich in the morning. I remember how you gave me your new running shoes before you’d got around to wearing them yourself, and how you gave me your thermal socks when we were out in the field…”
Avihai, another member of the team, recounted how, during the fighting, he was with another force in the Netzarim corridor. He and his comrades found an old transistor radio and listened to news bulletins at intervals, and thus he learned of Alex’s death from the news he heard during a lull in the fighting. At first they heard that a soldier from the Engineering Corps had been killed, then later of an officer from the corps. “As soon as we realized it was Alex, that was one of the hardest moments of the whole campaign,” he said.
Team member Ohad pointed out that “symbolically, or even ironically, when he died, Alex had completed three full years of service in the IDF: he enlisted on January 5th, and was killed on January 6th, three years later.”
Alex’s father Grigory spoke at the ceremony, and reminded those present that Alex had been a happy person, who “infected others with his joie de vivre, radiated light around him, banished sadness with his smile and created an atmosphere of happiness and love. At home and in his studies, he would always help – you only had to ask him. He had a good head on his shoulders, and magic hands.” Alex, he said, “left a profound impression on a great many people, and that impression will remain for ever, especially with the very large number of friends he made in the course of his brief life. He had a talent for affection, and he gave his all. He had the strength to overcome obstacles and cope with difficulties, never giving up, even when the going got tough. In combat, over and over again, he imbued his comrades with renewed strength. His motto was ‘We’re happy, and we’ve got nothing,’” he concluded.
Grigory Mashevitzky thanked his friends from KKL-JNF for having chosen such a beautiful spot to commemorate his son, and said that it would be a place where family and friends would gather to reunite with his memory.
Michael Ben Abu emphasized that “KKL-JNF’s work with bereaved families requires a great deal of sensitivity and empathy. The creation of a special site where the family can gather and remember provides continuity and a vital connection. It helps the family to carry on living with their loss.”
Towards the end of the ceremony Zak Gilron, a long-standing friend of the family, read the planting prayer. Before he did so, however, he explained to those present that the Mashevitzky family is a very special one, whose members had fought for years for their right to immigrate to Israel, and who embodied the ideal of “saying little and doing a great deal.” Zak concluded by reading a poem in Alex’s memory, and added, “We are planting in the soil the memory of Alex and of what he gave and did throughout his life, so that he will be remembered after his death.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony Alex’s family and friends planted young trees in his memory amid the landscape of Lahav Forest.
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