Soldiers from one of the toughest units in the army embraced each other and cried on Thursday as their comrade, Yonatan Hadasi, was buried in a pine casket in the cemetery of Kibbutz Merhavia, where he was born and raised.
Maj. Yishai, his commanding officer, described Hadasi as "an outstanding soldier in every fiber of his being."
Earlier in the afternoon, Hadasi's parents, Mir and Yossi, sat on a couch in the darkened living room of their home. Yossi cried and wiped his eyes while his wife tried to comfort him. Later, at the funeral, the roles were reversed.
They were surrounded by a small knot of close friends, family and some of those who fought alongside Hadasi when he was killed on Wednesday near Moshav Avivim. On one chair sat a staff-sergeant, who was crying on the shoulder of a lieutenant sitting beside him. When the sergeant got up from his chair, he was holding a crutch and limping heavily.
Yonatan's mother, who grew up on Kibbutz Merhavia, was the oldest daughter of a Dutch couple who converted to Judaism and settled on the kibbutz. His father was born in Haifa and moved to Merhavia after marrying Mir. Yonatan also left two younger sisters: Sharon, 18, and Eden, 10.
Outside, on the spacious lawn in front of the house, tables with umbrellas had been set up for the mourners. On one side of the lawn sat the soldier's friends from the Kibbutz Haartzi high school he had attended together with students from three other kibbutzim: Sarid, Ein Dor and Mizra.
On the other side of the lawn, his army buddies sat silently in a circle. A lieutenant, whose arm was in a cast, could not talk about Hadasi - at least not to a stranger. He pointed to a group of soldiers who belonged to Yonatan's squad, but they too were unable to talk. For them, it was a time to circle the wagons.
At least 500 people attended the funeral. At 5:45 p.m., the family and friends drove to the cemetery a few kilometers away, where many of the mourners had already gathered. An honor guard marched in front of the pall bearers, the casket draped in an Israeli flag. Yossi recited the Kaddish, but his voice broke and he began to sob. The sobs echoed throughout the throng of mourners.
Among those who eulogized Hadasi were two members of his squad. One of them, Ido Iloni, said Hadasi had made him promise that, if he were killed, Iloni would recite a poem he loved at his funeral. Iloni said he was keeping that promise. The poem was entitled "The Little Prince of Platoon Bet," which Yonatan apparently was.
At the foot of the grave, the family huddled together - Yossi with his arms folded around his wife, and Eden sitting on a chair with Sharon and embracing her from behind. Each loving word spoken by the eulogizers seemed to sear them with pain. Sharon and Eden cried uncontrollably until finally, at the end of the ceremony, Mir quickly took her youngest daughter and spirited her away from the fresh grave.