The moment a mother parts from her dead son is an inhuman one, Malka Kalangel said as she stood just feet away from the freshly filled grave of her son, Maj. Yochai Kalangel, 25, at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl Military Cemetery on Thursday afternoon.
“Only God knows how much I feared that knock on the door. And then it arrived. That was the moment my life turned upside down,” she said.
Malka cried as she spoke. A sound system magnified her sobs, so they permeated the chilly air. Thousands of mourners surrounded her. They stood under a bright blue sky, between tombstones, on empty patches of grass and perched on stone walls.
One of the mourners held a large Israeli flag that flapped in the wind throughout the funeral.
Yochai, a resident of Har Gilo in Gush Etzion, had just celebrated his small daughter’s first birthday and found out that his wife, Tali, was pregnant with their second child when he headed up north this week.
He was one of two soldiers killed Wednesday when Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles at two military vehicles on the Israeli side of the Lebanese border.
Those who eulogized him described him as a loyal friend and brother, a warrior who was also a natural-born leader, who did everything he could to protect the men in his unit.
Last Independence Day he was awarded a commendation by the chief of staff for excellence.
“You drew everyone to you with your magical smile, your optimism and strength,” Malka said.
“How, my child, how did this happen. My beloved soul, my angel, you were a charming boy, a model husband and father and a supportive brother,” Malka said.
Yochai always assured her not to worry about him that he would be fine, Malka recalled. “But I worried.”
Tali stood by her side as she spoke and held her arm around Malka’s shoulders, comforting her when tears overwhelmed her.
“I am so proud of you, I love you very much,” Malka said. “You are my life, my hero.”
Now, she said, “you are the entire nation’s hero.”
His former commander, Lt.-Col. Liran Hajbi, said he viewed Yochai, nicknamed Juha, as a son. He saw in Yochai a younger version of himself.
He was a fierce warrior who went to great lengths to complete his mission, Hajbi said. During Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank to find the three teenagers who were kidnapped by Hamas in June, he continued searching in the dark, even when their superiors had told them to stop, Hajbi said.
He recalled how when they fought in Gaza, Juha had risked his life under heavy fire to save soldiers.
“You don’t have to explain anything to him, he does what is needed to bring everyone safely home,” Hajbi said.
“Juha, I salute you,” he concluded.
Lt.-Col. Kobi Barel recalled Wednesday’s attack, when Yochai was killed the moment the missile hit his vehicle, and there was a real fear that Hezbollah might try and kidnap his body.
“We understood the terrible situation from the start,” he said.
“From the first moment to the last, your friends in the unit did everything they could, including risking their lives, so they could protect you and your vehicle with their bodies to prevent a possible abduction by the enemy,” Barel said.
“They stayed close to you, even though they were under fire,” Barel said.
“Your presence is already missed,” he added.
When Yochai’s father, Yossi, delivered his eulogy, he listed the names of his six children. Yochai’s name tumbled off his lips naturally, but then he paused. “As you know, you are no longer here,” he said.
“It is the way of the world, a son buries his father, but now things have changed,” Yossi said.
In Shtulim near Ashdod, St.-Sgt. Dor Chaim Nini, 20, was buried in the cemetery in the moshav.
On Wednesday morning, before he was killed, Dor’s girlfriend, Sahar Salem, posted a picture of the two of them on her Facebook page with the words, “Good Morning, #Love #MyHeart.”
An hour later Dor responded with a WhatsApp message, according to Channel 2.
“Love of my life, I love you, you are my life, my great love and I love you most in the world. Soon I will speak to you. I love and miss you greatly,” he said, signing his message with the term of endearment and perhaps hope for the future, “your husband.”
The night before, Dor sent Sahar a message that expressed how lovesick he was for her.
“First and great love of my life, I wanted to tell you how much I love you, wonderful woman, a woman who has in her everything from everything... the thing most dear and beloved to me in the world, and I truly love you my dear wife. So, my life, may you have a good night. God, I’m crazy about you.”
At the funeral, Sahar told mourners, “Just yesterday they told me you [Dor] were going to propose to me in two months.”
Of his death, she said, “This can’t be true. Tell me it’s not true. We were together for six years.”
“Please open the door to my house one more time and enter. You always told me you would get rid of anything that stood in our way, so please get rid of this nightmare.”Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.