Maj. Ro'i Klein and Lt. Amihai Merhavia of Battalion 51 used to drive together to their Golani Brigade unit from their respective houses in Eli. On Thursday, they were buried in their West Bank settlement, a day after they and six other soldiers were killed in a battle in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail.
Klein, 31, jumped on a grenade during the course of the battle, giving his life to protect his soldiers.
"First he said the 'Shema' prayer and then he jumped on a grenade. That's why some of the soldiers who were with him survived," said Yechiel Leiter, a resident of Eli.
That commitment to leadership was a major source of the respect in which his soldiers held him.
"The one thing I always heard him described as was 'admired.' He had a very powerful personality and he was so modest, quiet, and gentle," said Natanel Elyashiv, Klein's life-long friend.
Klein is survived by his wife and two sons.
Merhavia, 24, was born in Eli, the second of 10 children. He was described as a serious young man who was constantly asking questions about Israeli society, diplomacy, and way of life.
"Amihai was always looking for answers to questions. He never took things for granted," relayed Leiter. "He was a great man with a baby face who accomplished in a short life what many people don't accomplish in a lifetime."
For both men, their time studying Torah and Judaic texts left great impressions on the rest of their lives.
Klein was born in Ra'aanna but moved to Eli after studying in the Bnei David Mechina (preparatory yeshiva) there.
"The most important year in Ro'i's life was his year in mechina and it was there that he got his direction for his whole life," said Elyashiv, also a close friend of Klein.
His priorities - Torah guiding his life and making the Jewish people and the state of Israel an important part of it - led Klein to move to Eli and join the Golani Brigade because he felt that it was the best way to achieve these standards.
"What he learned in mechina was his source of power and motivation and spirit, and he wanted to be close to it like a well that he would draw from," said Elyashiv.
Merhavia, in contrast to his commanding officer, originally never felt any drive to join the Golani Brigade. Merhavia studied at the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem for three years and felt that army service was necessary in order to fulfill his duty to protect the State of Israel. He was perfectly prepared to do his army service in any infantry unit until his close friend, Shmuel Weiss from Eli, who served in the Golani Brigade was killed in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
Both men had their qualms about how the army was used by the government.
About a year ago, at the beginning of his service, Merhavia wrote a letter to the chief of General Staff in which he questioned the wisdom and legitimacy of using the army to remove Jews from Gush Katif. The chief of General Staff responded by issuing an order for Merhavia to be removed from his position as an officer.
"The top officers in Golani were very against [the order] and fought on his behalf. After six months of suspension, he was allowed back," recalled Leiter. "He was loved by his soldiers and he fought so hard to get back into his position because he felt his service was part of his Zionist and ideological duties."
Klein was dissatisfied with how the army dealt with the pullout from Lebanon in 2000. He was part of the last unit to leave.
"After the last soldier was photographed and the army said it was out of Lebanon, Ro'i and his unit were still there doing a stakeout," said Elyashiv.
After a few hours, the army remembered that Klein and his unit were still deep in Lebanon. Klein "thought it was very irresponsible."
"He was distressed about how they left Lebanon. This is particularly sad because Ro'i personally paid the price," said Elyashiv.
Residents of Eli are steadfast in their support of the current war and they believe "it is a war for our survival," stated Leiter. "We will be satisfied with nothing short of complete victory. Then, the deaths of Ro'i and Amihai will not be in vain."
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