At the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery on Sunday, Miriam Peretz said her heart was now torn between the grave of her son Uriel, 22, killed in Lebanon in 1998, and the flag-draped coffin of her son Eliraz, 31, who was slain in Gaza on Friday.
“On Remembrance Day, who will I visit first?” she asked.
Her sobs filled the otherwise silent air in the Jerusalem cemetery where thousands gathered at noon.
“My son, [Eliraz], today I did not go, as I customarily do, to Uriel’s grave.” said Miriam. “He is the oldest.”
When her husband died five years ago, Miriam faced a number of hard questions regarding who to visit first when heading into Jerusalem to the graves of those she loved – “the son – or the father.”
As she addressed Eliraz’s grave, she said: “Today, I didn’t know what to do, but I wanted you. Your loss happened now. And Uriel’s loss was 12 years ago.
“But he is here, just one row away,” she noted. “How will I divide my heart? Where will it be? Eliraz, take my heart.
“Uriel, I hope you hear me a little. My sons, go to your father Eliezer. Hug him for me! Come together! Members of the Peretz family, you have established a new home in the sky.
“My Eliraz, every day you sang the song of life. You loved life and sought it. You had a smile that encompassed everyone. You had large eyes filled with love and awe of God. You had the soul of a saint.
“You always encouraged me to continue.”
Miriam said that Eliraz’s death had left a void in the center of her family.
His wife, Shlomit, had lost her husband, his four remaining siblings a brother, and his four children – aged six and under – a loving and caring father.
“You are not just my son, but that of all of Israel. The nation today lost a leader,” she declared. “My good people, some of you did not know him, some of you came just because you heard the story.
“A great fire destroyed my family today. From out of the ashes I am turning to you to ask that you take away some of his attributes and live by them.
“I do not want a tower built in his memory, but a life of significance, that we should treat one another better.”
For close to two hours, a host of speakers eulogized a soldier they described as dedicated and fearless. They spoke of a young man determined to follow in the footsteps of his fallen older brother.
He was devoted, they said, to his country, his family and God. Throughout, he was filled with happiness, a deep love of humanity and life, they said.
His sister Bat El, who is also in the IDF, said that when her brother Uriel was killed, she was only nine and did not understand what it meant in the way she does now.
After her father’s death, she said, addressing Eliraz: “You took his place. I spoke with you about everything. Now you will not be there to see how it all turns out.
“You will not be there to lead me to the huppa, like you promised and like my father promised. Now both of you have gone.”
Addressing God, Bat El said that this was the third time her family had been tested.
“This is the third time in my 20 years that I am burying a loved one – a father, a brother and another brother,” she said. “We have already proved that we can bear this. So I am begging you, please stop. From here on in, please give us only celebrations.”
Eliraz’s brother, Avihai, said that anyone else would have been destroyed by the experiences his family had been through.
“But our mother was not broken,” said Avihai. As a result of her strength, Eliraz found a deep well of happiness and love of life that pushed the entire family forward in his path.
“We will not give up on this happiness. We will be good students of what you have taught us.
Eliraz’s friend, Yehuda Ish Shalom, recounted how they had met at the pre-military academy housed in Atzmona in Gush Katif. He recalled how they would run every morning in the dunes before class.
Once, when the chief of staff came to speak to them, he sat with a closed bottle of water on the table, Ish Shalom said. After a while, Eliraz got up, walked up to him, opened the bottle, poured the water into a glass, and went back to his seat, without saying a word.
He also remembered how Eliraz was inspired one morning to cook pasta and bring it to soldiers at a checkpoint.
Ish Shalom then sang a mournful melody, “I met him in the heart of the desert.”
Rabbi Rafi Peretz, who had been the head of the Atzmona academy, and who spent Shabbat after Eliraz’s death at the Kissufim crossing to Gaza near the spot where the soldier was killed, described how the rain had drenched the area during those first 24 hours.
“It had not been like that all winter. All night I hear the rain as in my heart there was a great pain. It was as if God was crying because of what was taken from us,” he said.
Golani Brigade commander Col. Avi Peled also eulogized Peretz, saying he had been a “fearless” soldier who was always at the front of his troops.
After the funeral, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came to Miriam Peretz’s home in the Givat Ze’ev settlement. The family moved there after they were evacuated from Sinai in the early 1980s.
Netanyahu said the whole country had been struck by the power of the family’s courage and nobility, adding: “The entire nation of Israel feels your pain.”
Eliraz’s wife, Shlomit, later told Channel 2 that she did not know how
the family would have Seder on Monday evening without Eliraz.
“But I want to believe that he will be with us [in spirit] and will
give us the strength to be happy on the holiday,” said Shlomit.
Even as the family started to sit shiva, politicians began to worry
about the fate of Eliraz’s home. It is located in an unauthorized area
of Eli, known as the Givat Hayovel outpost. There is an court order to
destroy his home, along with that of Sarah Klein, the widow of Maj. Roi
Klein, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War, as well as those of 10
other families in the outpost.