Fathers and sons – the unbearable list

Where else besides in Israel are fathers still in uniform when their sons are already in uniform?

Israeli soldiers hold an Israeli flag as they leave Lebanese territory during a second day of ceasefire during the Second Lebanon War, near the town of Menara August 15, 2006. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli soldiers hold an Israeli flag as they leave Lebanese territory during a second day of ceasefire during the Second Lebanon War, near the town of Menara August 15, 2006.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘Why should we take you?” the officers at the trials for the elite Golani unit asked Ovadya Dagan, a short, scrawny fellow.
“Because I can get any vehicle to run,” he said. They accepted Ovadya into Golani’s special forces, and never regretted it. It wasn’t long before he got to prove his skill as a mechanic. In the First Lebanon War, his APC was hit by an anti-tank missile.
Ovadya made his way back across the border into Israel, found another APC, and drove it back to his squad.
Twenty-four years later, the Second Lebanon War broke out and Ovadya found himself in Lebanon again. This time he was the oldest soldier in his reserve unit.
He refused to move out until he had freed a horse tied up beside a house and given it water. But animals weren’t the only ones he looked out for. He joined forces with the veteran army doctor Yoram Cohen, one of Israel’s senior gynecologists, who is often mistaken for a truck driver because of his appearance, and that’s even ignoring the question of what kind of exam a gynecologist would give a wounded soldier on the battlefield.
Ovadya and Yoram were making majadera, rice and lentils, for the younger men in their unit when they received warning of an incoming rocket. Everyone ran outside, except for Ovadya and Yoram, who held their ground. If they left the building, they said, the majadera would burn, and that was unacceptable. Through the open window, Ovadya handed the hot food out to the soldiers on fancy china plates.
Years passed, and Ovadya’s son Yuval (Yuvi) joined the army. A week before he completed his training in another elite unit, he dislocated his shoulder. The army lowered his medical status and it seemed he would not be able to serve as a combat soldier. But Yuvi was not the type to let anything stop him. He picked up where he had left off, and eventually became a commander in the special forces. He fell in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, leading his soldiers in battle. His father, an old friend of mine (we served together in the reserves), continues to volunteer for military service, years after he should have hung up his uniform.
Driving our jeep through the Arad Valley one dark night, talking, he told me wanted to establish a small farm with a school for troubled children, like the ones Yuvi worked with at the Kedma Youth Village during a year of national service.
Something alive, not a mute monument.
We pulled over and boiled coffee on a camp stove. It was the middle of the night. Darkness and silence all around, nothing to hide behind, nothing to distract your thoughts. Just you, the desert, and God. When dawn breaks, Ovadya, a kippa on his head, donned tefillin and devoutly recites the prayers. Watching him, I wonder: does it help? Maybe he has no choice. Maybe otherwise he’d go crazy.
Where else besides in Israel are fathers still in uniform when their sons are already in uniform? The years go by and new wars break out, each conflict gets a new name, and new heroes give their lives for the country. I remember my friends, frozen in my memory as they were then, without a single wrinkle, without a single gray hair, still young, full of dreams, full of life. Like an accursed relay race, the baton of death is passed from generation to generation, and now the names of our friends’ sons are being added to the unbearable list.

Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Kitai, skitai@kardis.co.il.