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The funeral of St.-Sgt. Pavel Slotsker, 20, who was killed Sunday in an attack on IDF forces near Kerem Shalom, was underway Monday morning in the military section of the Dimona cemetery.
Slotsker was an outstanding student in the sciences and dreamed of studying law at the end of his army service. "He was a handsome, good boy who didn't speak much," recalled his high school guidance counselor last night. "He had friends in both his class and the other class. He was just a good boy."
Lt. Hanan Barak, 21, of Arad, who was also killed in the attack, was laid to rest in his hometown of Arad on Sunday evening.
Barak's girlfriend, Orit Gino, stood with tears in her eyes on Sunday night near the fresh grave of her boyfriend, who only five days earlier had promised they were soulmates who would never be parted.
It was a pledge he never got to keep.
As night set across the desert, she and hundreds of other mourners filled the small cemetery outside Barak's home city of Arad to pay their final respects.
Speaking to Barak, as if he were still with her, she recalled a conversation between them during a vacation to Eilat, in which he told her, "We are soulmates, and soulmates never part. We are like one person." She told him that even though she had a hard time with the army, she would support his decision to stay on to be an officer after his three years of service ended.
"I said to you, 'Hanan, I am with you in fire and water. I support you in everything that you do.'" Then they spoke of their dreams for the future, the home they wanted to have together and the children they hoped to raise together.
"We were going to be married," she told the mourners.
Barak's father, David, broke down as he said Kaddish, the prayer for the dead.
"My beloved son, I thought you would say Kaddish for me; how is it that I am saying it for you?" he asked.
Barak's commander spoke of how he understood immediately upon seeing Barak's tank that the soldier had died. "It had a bad smell of blood," he said. "I saw you sitting calmly next to the driver, as if you were sleeping. But the Hanan I saw was not the Hanan that I knew," the commander said.
Earlier in the day, Barak's older brother, Yishai, spoke with The Jerusalem Post outside his parents' apartment in Arad, which was so crowded with mourners that they spilled into the hallway. He broke into tears as he spoke of his beloved younger brother.
"It's hard for me to speak about him in the past tense," said Yishai.
As they smoked cigarettes, both he and his father spoke of Barak's love of the army. "In school, he was a regular student, nothing special," said David. "But he came into his own in the army, where he excelled and emerged as a leader," he added.
Yishai added that it was important to him to know that he was guarding both his home and his country. But that was only one side of his brother, said Yishai. "There are not enough words to describe how great he was," he added.
In addition to his success as a soldier, Barak was an artist who drew pictures, particularly portraits, said Yishai. "But he was pragmatic, so he was considering going into architecture after the army," he added.
His younger brother was the kind of person who knew what he wanted and left no stone unturned when it came to pursuing his goals. Similarly, he was always there for his family. He took off time from the army when his father was in the hospital, said Yishai.
Among the many memories that flooded his mind after hearing of his brother's death was the way his brother had bonded with him, supporting him through a serious illness six years ago, when his brother was only 15.
"I knew my hair was going to fall out, so I decided to shave it off. In solidarity with me, Hanan shaved his off as well," recalled Yishai.
Throughout the long day, Yishai explained, he had tried to imagine what words he would use to tell his six-year-old daughter that her uncle was gone. "She was crazy about him and he came to visit her whenever he could," said Yishai.
When Yishai heard of the attack on the Gaza border, it didn't occur to him that his younger brother was involved. "I didn't even know where he was stationed," said Yishai.
His father was more informed and called Yishai a number of times that morning to tell him he feared his other son was involved. Yishai said he worried about his brother the way one does when a relative is serving in the army.
Hanan, in contrast, was not afraid, said Yishai. "He was one of those people who always believed that everything would be alright," said Yishai.
He last saw his brother four days earlier when, by chance, they were both on vacation in Eilat. They met in the evening and talked, and Barak played with his niece and two-year-old nephew.
"Then we parted. I hugged him and said, 'Take care of yourself,'" recalled Yishai.
In Dimona, Slutsker's friends and family members prepared for his burial, which is set to take place in the city at 10 a.m. on Monday.
They said Slutsker had been an excellent student who had dreamed of studying medicine after the army. His mother said she had always worried that something would happen to him.
"Why do our children have to die?" she asked.â€¢
Aliza Appelbaum contributed to this story .
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