The day army officials knocked on the door of Hagai and Yigal Cohen’s home in Nahariya, some 30 years ago, the
brothers did not immediately realize what was happening. But when they heard
their mother’s screams, they knew something terrible had happened: They lost
their father to a heart attack while he was serving his reserve duty in Eilat.
Today, they regularly confront the memory of that painful
Each year as part of their reserve duty, the brothers renew
their voluntary agreement to serve in the IDF’s casualties department. They
knock on the doors of families of fallen soldiers to announce their
“I remember not feeling well on Saturday night after Shabbat and
not going to school the next day,” Yigal, who was 11 years old at the time,
recalled. “I was home alone and I saw all the cars pulling up.”
officials asked for his mother, he told them that she was over at his
grandmother’s house helping her with Passover cleaning, a few steps away.
Shortly after they went over, Yigal heard the screams. The brothers were sent to
spend the night at family friends to be away from the crisis.
was six at the time, doesn’t remember much of his father except that he worked
at the local post office, where he often used to take him as a child.
also remember he was into sports because I have memories of running with him,”
he told The Jerusalem Post.
Hagai, 38, manages a food store while his
older brother Yigal, 44, works for the Prisons Service.
They each have
Their decision to volunteer to announce the death of
soldiers to their families came out of a sense of a personal
“It’s obviously not what I dreamed of doing as a kid,” Hagai
explained. “But it comes from a place of duty, that in such a tragic event, you
can try to appease it as much as it is even possible.
“When you arrive to
the family’s house and when you leave, it is two different worlds,” he
“`Each time you get those butterflies in your
Even the people who are very strong and dominant in their daily
lives, break in one moment, and you understand that even if they are adults, you
need to be there as the adult in that moment.
Hagai said that when he
arrives, he explains that he can relate to what the family is going
“I come each time as that same child with that same
he said. “Usually I even look around to find the same
sixyear- old kid in the room.”
Both brothers said that the anticipation
and fear before the announcements never abates.
Yet, Yigal feels that he
has accumulated experience with time.
“You start developing all kinds of
abilities,” Yigal said. “You start knowing how to adapt yourself to the
situation in the home and you know more or less how to approach each
“Each event is unique,” he continued.
“You never know who
is on the other side of that door, and time doesn’t make it
Hagai added that in most cases, when the family sees them
arrive, they are aware of what is happening.
“They know in an instant and
most of the time, you say it because you have to clearly say it,” he said. “The
first shock is very strong.”
Yigal remembers one announcement where three
soldiers were killed in a car accident.
The family, who were Russian
immigrants, didn’t understand who the soldiers were and what they were there
“Until we told the father [and then] he started screaming. The
mother was in pajamas and she didn’t understand. We sat her down on the sofa and
we had to repeat it to her three times,” he said.
From the moment they
announce the death of a soldier, the brothers’ job requires that they accompany
the family until the start of the shiva mourning period. After, for ethical
reasons, the brothers cut all contact with them.
“You have to hit a
psychological switch and disconnect, so that you don’t make the situation more
complex,” Yigal told the Post.
“It is just not a healthy situation to
have a friendship with them,” Hagai added. “In some cases, I even see parents
who I announced a death to around town, in the supermarket where I work, and
most people don’t remember it’s me, and I don’t go and remind them.”
brothers’ responsibility requires them to be on constant alert and after each
announcement, they attend a debriefing session. They are offered psychological
assistance if they feel its necessary.
“When you go home, you just want
to be with your kids, your wife, your family more,” Yigal explained. “But I
think the solution is to hit a switch and go back to your routine, and you just
erase the thoughts.
“I look back and I know I tried to help, to do some
sort of blessed work and bring a personal touch,” he said. “Today, you could
just send an SMS or use technology. It’s something that I appreciate and its
important that the IDF invests a lot of means even into those things.”
the Casualties Department, Lieut.-Col. Yoram Hasson explained that the
division’s main occupation is the treatment of bereaved families or handicapped
and wounded soldiers and their families.
The department, which works on a
24/7 basis, handles each case onward from the moment the soldier was injured or
Hasson said in his opinion that informers like the Cohen brothers
serve the most difficult job in the field.
He explained their job has to
be done rapidly, to avoid a situation in which the family finds out about a
death before the informers are able to announce it face to face.
hardest moment for me is the moment when I give the order to the informers,”
Hasson said. “I know that the family’s life will change drastically in a single
Hasson said that the best thing for his department would be to
have no work at all.
“I wish for the people of Israel that from this
Remembrance Day to the next... we won’t have to add more names to
According to data provided by the IDF Spokesman’s Office,
there have been 16,816 IDF fallen soldiers since the state’s Declaration of
Independence until the most recent count this year.
have died since last year’s Remembrance Day.
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