A father's eulogy for a slain soldier

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July 23, 2006 04:26
2 minute read.
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It was, as they say, deja vu all over again. Standing in the military cemetery in Ra'anana, at the first funeral for a local soldier killed in combat since our own son fell nearly four years ago, I watched in awe and horror as another hero of the Jewish people was laid to rest. Benjy Hillman, 27, a commander in the elite Egoz Battalion, had been killed in Lebanon on Thursday night in a skirmish with Hizbullah. Along with his parents, sister, brother and grandmother, Benjy was escorted to his final resting place by his bride Ayala. Just three weeks ago, they had stood under the huppa, long-time friends proclaiming their eternal devotion for one another. They had been brought together from different sides of the world - Ayala from Argentina, Benjy from England - in a fairy tale of two olim who met, fell in love and married in Israel. But this war - forced upon us by cruel enemies whose hatred knows no bounds - had torn the couple asunder. Many of those in attendance had danced at the wedding; now they stood in shocked silence, the magnitude of the tragedy almost too much to absorb. One of the questions on many people's minds - "Why couldn't Benjy take more time to be with his new wife?" - was answered by one of his close friends. "Benjy felt a deep responsibility to his soldiers and didn't want to leave them in their hour of need. And he knew the charge of the Mishna, 'In time of war, everyone goes out to battle; even the bridegroom must leave his bridal canopy.' "For Benjy, the nation took precedence over all other considerations." Benjy and my son Ari attended the same yeshiva, Midreshet Noam in Pardess Hanna. When Ari was killed, Benjy came to the funeral and then to the shiva, where he presented us with a letter. In it he spoke of what it meant to be a combat soldier, of the total commitment that a soldier in the field must have, of the untold sacrifices, large and small, that he must make - sacrifices that the public at large will never know. He told us that Ari was a hero, in life and in death, and that we should be comforted by the honor he had brought to the country. "The righteous, even in death, are still alive," he wrote. Benjy promised that he would carry on the fight for Israel's safety and security. Benjy distinguished himself and his family with a courage and character that is a model for every young man - religious or secular, native born or immigrant - to emulate. His death is a source of deep anguish and pain, but his life is a testament to the virtue and honor that a human being can attain if he is prepared to give totally of himself. As the memorial prayer was chanted for Benjy, I turned my eyes to the heavens. I saw Ari greet Benjy and escort him to a place of honor. Two boys from Ra'anana, forever young, who will forever be remembered as the best Israel can be.

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