Remembering the fallen through good deeds in their names

These projects taken on by other parents, often assisted by siblings of the fallen soldiers are diverse in scope and cover a vast array of needs.

May 2, 2019 01:34
3 minute read.
President Reuven Rivlin hosts bereaved families and heads of Yad Labanim branches

President Reuven Rivlin hosts bereaved families and heads of Yad Labanim branches. (photo credit: MARK NEIMAN)

There are countless stories of parents who have lost a son or a daughter, be it in war or otherwise, who are so overcome with grief that they are unable to function. The thousands of parents and siblings who are associated with Yad Lebanim – the organization that supports bereaved families and commemorates each and every fallen soldier – have learned to live with their grief, but to put their mourning aside and choose life.

In doing so, they establish or join in community projects to commemorate their soldier child or sibling who died in service to the state. They find or initiate projects reflecting the interests of their deceased loved ones, and in this way keep them close, even in death, while improving the quality of life for others.

Three such projects were presented to President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday, at the annual meeting which the president hosts for bereaved families and heads of Yad Lebanim branches from across the country.

These and other projects taken on by other parents, often assisted by siblings of the fallen soldiers, are diverse in scope and cover a vast array of needs. They are not limited to Jewish communities, but include the whole of Israel’s demographic mosaic.

At the outset of the meeting, Yad Lebanim national chairman Eli Ben-Shem – who lost his 21-year-old son Kobi in the 1997 helicopter disaster – commented on the absence of Nechama Rivlin, who is still recuperating from a lung transplant, and voiced the hope that she would participate again next year as she has done in the past.

Referring to Rivlin’s address to the opening session of the new Knesset on Tuesday, Ben-Shem commended him for his call for an end of vindictiveness and vilification, the banishment of distortion and the flourishing of truth.

Ben-Shem was angry at the distortions and vilifications that characterized the recent election campaigns, saying that “all redlines had been crossed.”

He and other speakers, including the president, underscored that regardless of religious, political, socio-economic or ethnic differences, the fallen soldiers had studied together, fought together and died together in their common commitment to defend the country and the nation.

Rivlin said that he meets with many groups, but no meeting is as emotionally meaningful as that with bereaved parents who have paid the greatest price for Israel’s security.

The project presented to Rivlin was Beit Benji (Benji’s House), just outside of Ra’anana.

Named for London-born Major Benji Hillman, who was killed in 2006 while fighting in the Second Lebanon War, it is literally a home away from home for lone soldiers, who are provided with all the comforts of home, including companions, their own space when they need it and a willing ear for their problems – but most of all, affection and the knowledge that they are not alone. Moreover, the care they receive doesn’t stop with their service in the army. Those who decide to stay in Israel will continue to benefit from Benji’s House.
Lt. Lotan Slavin, while on a rescue mission, was also among the casualties of the Second Lebanon War. His parents Gil and Iris Slavin, who are prominent personalities in the Arava, established Lotan’s Way to empower youth at risk by using desert therapies and techniques to help them become self-reliant. Many of the youngsters who are sullen and non-communicative at the beginning experience a wondrous transformation on these desert trips while learning how to survive the challenges of the wilderness, and become talkative and enthusiastic.

Sgt Avi Ofner, the son of Raya and Yossi Ofner, was also among the soldiers killed in that fateful helicopter crash of 1997. His mother said that when she opened the newspaper 22 years ago and saw the photographs of all the victims of the disaster, she didn’t want meet or know any of the other families; she didn’t want to become part of the circle of bereavement, while at the same time knowing in her heart of hearts that she would eventually be integrated into this extended family.

Disturbed by the divisiveness in Israeli society, the Ofners founded an encounter movement in which Jews of every stripe could dialogue, break down barriers, learn to understand each other and fuse a common Israeli identity without sacrificing their own traditions.

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