soldier funeral 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Hundreds of people gathered in the military section of Beersheba's old cemetery on Wednesday to pay their last respects to Alexander Mashevitzky, the 21-year-old staff sergeant from an elite engineering corps unit who was killed during heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday night.
As the military truck carrying his coffin entered the cemetery gates, Mashevitzky's mother, Ludmilla, walked slowly behind it, her hand on the casket as she shuffled past a sea of soldiers donning their grey berets - the Engineering Corp's trademark color.
As the truck pulled up to soldiers standing in a double-row honor guard, which waited attentively to escort Mashevitzky to his grave, his mother held on to the casket still, crying.
Military officers from various branches of service, scores of civilians and a handful of rabbis, including chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar, were among the crowd, which stood by solemnly as prayers were read, and eulogies given by Mashevitzky's friends and family.
Alex's father spoke first, struggling with his words, his grief apparent.
"It's unnatural for a father to say Kaddish for his son," he said. "He was a brilliant young man, who succeeded at just about everything he put his mind to. I remember that he would fix every little technological problem in the house, and he was great at math and physics."
Alex's best friend, Tal Yehuda, spoke next, also mentioning Mashevitzky's drive for success and ability to accomplish whatever he put his mind to.
"You're a king, and I don't know what I'm going to do without you," Yehuda said, fighting back tears. "I've never seen anyone like you, someone who went from being a first-rate student in school to an elite fighting unit in the army. I remember the way you would get us to go on your trips to the North. You brought us all together, and I'm going to miss you terribly."
Following Yehuda, Mashevitzky's mother said a few words, drawing on the moving eulogy given just before her.
"Alex, I always said your friends were just like you - that you had great friends because you were great. You attracted only good people because you were so good." As she spoke, a group of soldiers from Mashevitzky's unit locked arms and cried.
"Our enemies think that because we shed tears for every drop of blood lost, we are in some way weak," Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said as he addressed the crowd. "But they are mistaken. No other nation in the world has suffered like the Nation of Israel, and we are a nation that knows how to stand strong and steadfast. Alex was killed as he protected us, and that is a holy duty. His soul has gone to the highest place, and in his merit we ask God to safeguard all of our soldiers and heal all of our wounded, and let us say Amen."
The crack of M-16s firing in salute pierced the sky, as the crowd winced with every shot. A clear sky and cool breeze swayed the cemetery's trees and flowers. Alex's mother cried over his casket, her voice carrying out over the crowd, "Why, why why?" she cried. "Why did he have to go?"
After the funeral, a friend from Mashevitzky's unit told The Jerusalem Post that she had spent the last day crying.
"I'm just going to miss him so much," she said. "He was just that kind of special person that could do anything, he could always make me smile. I remember one time, we were on a trip at Nahal Yehudia, in the North, and I ran out of breath. Alex ran up from the wadi to bring me my bag, and when he got back down, he realized my water wasn't in it. He ran back up again and got my bottle of water - that's the kind of guy he was. He could do anything, he truly was a king."
Minutes after the funeral ended, the sound of a siren screamed across the city and people could be seen running for cover.
In a stairwell leading up to an apartment building, two young men who had just been at the funeral ducked their heads down and waited for the booms, three of which arrived a few seconds after they had taken up their positions.
"Wow," one of them said, looking at his watch. "It's amazing that this didn't happen five minutes ago."
"Why?" the other one asked, looking up to see if he could see where the rockets had landed.
"The funeral would have turned into complete chaos," the first young man said. "Everyone would have gone running."