dvir Emanuelof 248.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy of the Emanuelof family. )
It's been almost a year since St.-Sgt. Dvir Emanuelof became the first casualty of Operation Cast Lead, losing his life to Hamas mortar fire just as he entered Gaza early in the offensive. But sitting with his mother, Dalia, in her living room last week, I was struck not by loss, but by life. And not by grief, but by fervent belief. And by a more recent story about Dvir that simply needs to be told, especially now at Hanukka, our season of miracles.
This past summer, Dalia and some friends planned to go to Hutzot Hayotzer, the artists' colony constructed each summer outside Jerusalem's Old City walls. But Dalia's young daughter objected; she wanted to go a week later, so she could hear Meir Banai in concert.
Dalia consented. And so, a week later, she found herself in the bleachers, waiting with her daughter for the performance to begin. Suddenly, Dalia felt someone touch her shoulder. When she turned around, she saw a little boy, handsome, with blond hair and blue eyes. A kindergarten teacher by profession, Dalia was immediately drawn to the boy, and as they began to speak, she asked him if he'd like to sit next to her.
By now, though, the boy's father had seen what was unfolding, and called over to him, "Eshel, why don't you come back and sit next to me and Dvir?" Stunned, Dalia turned around and saw the father holding a baby. "What did you say his name is?" she asked the father.
"Dvir," responded Benny.
"How old is he?" Dalia asked.
"Six months," was the reply.
"Forgive my asking," she continued, "was he born after Cast Lead, or before?"
Whereupon Dalia continued, "Please forgive my pressing, but can I ask why you named him Dvir?"
"Because," Benny explained to her, "the first soldier killed in Cast Lead was named Dvir. His story touched us, and we decided to name our son after him."
Almost unable to speak, Dalia paused, and said, "I'm that Dvir's mother."
Shiri, the baby's mother, had overheard the conversation, and wasn't certain that she believed her ears. "That can't be."
"What's your last name?"
"Where do you live?"
"It is you," Shiri said. "We meant to invite you to the brit, but we couldn't."
"It doesn't matter," Dalia assured her - "You see, I came anyway."
And then, Dalia told me, Shiri said something to her that she'll never forget - "Dvir is sending you a hug, through us."
At that point in our conversation, Shiri told me her story. She'd been pregnant, she said, in her 33rd or 34th week, and during an ultrasound test, a potentially serious problem with the baby was discovered. After consultations with medical experts, she was told that there was nothing to do. The baby would have to be born, and then the doctors would see what they could do. A day or two later, she was at home, alone, anxious and worried. She lit Hanukka candles, and turned on the news. The story was about Dvir Emanuelof, the first soldier killed in the operation. She saw, she said, the extraordinarily handsome young man, with his now famous smile, and she felt as though she were looking at an angel.
A short while later, Benny came home, and Shiri said to him, "Come sit next to me." When he'd seated himself down next to her, Shiri said to Benny, "A soldier was killed today."
"I heard," he said. "What do you say we name our baby after him?" Shiri asked.
"Okay," was Benny's reply.
They told no one about the name, and had planned to call Dalia once the baby was born, to invite her to the brit. But when Dvir was born, Shiri and Benny were busy with medical appointments, and it wasn't even clear when they would be able to have the brit. By the time the doctor gave them the okay to have the brit, it was no longer respectful to invite Dalia on such short notice, Shiri told me. So they didn't call her. Not then, and not the day after. Life took its course and they told no one about the origin of Dvir's name, for they hadn't yet asked Dalia's permission.
So no one knew, until that moment when a little blond-haired, blue-eyed boy - whom Dalia now calls "the messenger" - decided to tap Dalia on the shoulder. "Someone's looking out for us up there," Shiri said quietly, wiping a tear from her eye, "and this no doubt brings Him joy."
IT WAS now quiet in Dalia's living room, the three of us pondering this extraordinary sequence of events, wondering what to make of it. I was struck by the extraordinary bond between these two women, one religious and one traditional but not religious in the classic sense, one who's now lost a husband and a son and one who's busy raising two sons.
Unconnected in any way just a year ago, their lives are now inextricably interwoven. And I said to them both, almost whispering, "This is an Israeli story, par excellence."
As if they'd rehearsed the response, they responded in virtual unison, "No, it's a Jewish story."
They're right, of course. It is the quintessential Jewish story. It is a story of unspoken and inexplicable bonds. It is a story of shared destinies.
And as is true of this little country we call home, it's often impossible to know which part of the story is the real miracle, and which is the doing of extraordinary people. In the end, though, that doesn't really matter. When I light Hanukka candles this year, I'm going to be thinking of Dalia. Of Shiri. Of Dvir. And of Dvir.
I'm going to think of their sacrifice. Of their persistent belief. Of their extraordinary decency and goodness.
And as I move that shamash from one candle to the next, I will know that Shiri was right. These are not easy times. These are days when we really could use a miracle or two. So perhaps it really is no accident that now, when we need it most, Dvir is sending us all a hug from heaven above.
The writer is senior vice president of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is the author, most recently, of Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End (Wiley, 2009). He blogs at http://danielgordis.org.