On the day I lost my son, I had just landed in Ushuaia, Argentina. The airport
was small and full of muchaleers (youngsters with backpacks), and my friend Momo
and I managed to find a public phone to call home to Israel and say that we had
finally reached the southernmost point on the globe.
After several rings,
an unidentified voice answered. I asked to speak with my son Sagi. After long
moments of silence I was surprised to hear him say, “Daddy, where are you?”
Jokingly, I told him to go to the atlas, go down the length of Argentina and
there I was, at the southern point near Antarctica. I didn’t understand why he
was asking and didn’t give it much thought. Only later did I hear that, at that
moment, there were many people at my house together with my daughter Einat, who
was in the last month of her pregnancy, and Sagi, waiting to hear what had
happened to the IDF soldiers who had flown in the two helicopters that crashed
in northern Israel on February 4, 1997.
We left the airport, asking the
driver to take us to a small but clean hostel, most importantly a cheap one.
After a few moments we were already in our room and, as usual, I switched on the
television to watch the news. I saw “breaking news” flash across the screen and
footage of orchards near Dafna and She’ar Yashuv.
The reporter was
talking about two helicopters with 73 soldiers on board that had crashed into
each other in mid-air.
While the reporter was talking, the camera zoomed
in on an army beret of the Nahal unit. My heart skipped a few beats.
turned to Momo and said, “My son is gone!” Momo replied that I was talking
nonsense and that there were many units being flown by helicopter into the
various posts in Lebanon. He suggested we try to call home again. I spoke with
Sagi, and this time I asked him straight out whether Shahar was on the list of
missing soldiers. “We don’t know anything yet,” he answered.
sound filled my head and I tried to think what I should do next. I gave him the
number of the hostel where we staying and told him to contact me as soon as they
heard anything. All I remember after that is Momo trying to calm me down. Two
hours later, the phone rang. My legs were numb, and it seemed like hours before
I reached it. My tongue also felt numb.
I heard my son-in-law’s mother
say that it was hard for her even to say the words. Somehow I found myself
saying, “I understand that I have to come home.” She said yes and burst into
I threw the telephone down and ran outside into the
Alone under a solitary street lamp that gave out an eerie
yellow light, I looked up into heaven. Momo joined me and put his arms around
me. He burst into tears and said, “Oh Arie, you have no idea what path awaits
He himself had lost his brother in 1954 in a conflict on the
I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t know why he was
crying. My son had just died and I hadn’t even shed one tear.
midnight by now, and I had to tell my wife Dvora, who was with Momo’s wife Ilana
at a hotel in Rio de Janeiro.
We were supposed to meet up in the
following days to continue our trip together.
Roni, the army officer from
Rehovot, asked if I wanted someone from the embassy to go to her, but I answered
that as the two of us were partners in creating Shahar, I was the only one who
would tell her.
It took me a while to find the hotel they were staying at
near the airport. Over the phone I tried to tell her. At first, she was so happy
to hear my voice, and until today I can remember her words: “Mamush, I love
I was unable to tell her the truth and said that Shahar had been
killed in a car accident in Tel Aviv. I could hear her scream and, unable to
comfort her, I just said that I would get to her as soon as possible.
carried on on automatic, speaking again to Roni and asking him if someone should
meet us all in Buenos Aires.
Momo and I returned to our room, and I found
myself taking a shower and putting on the white clothes that I had with me, in
some kind of purifying ceremony. That night I didn’t fall asleep, and pictures
of Shahar flashed in my head.
Toward noon the next day, we landed in
The Israeli consul was waiting to take us to the
ambassador’s home, where Dvora and Ilana were impatiently waiting.
toward midnight did we find ourselves on a flight to Madrid. The military
attaché had taken care of everything and took us straight on board. We sat
silently almost the whole way. Sometimes our shoulders shook with grief, and
sometimes our eyes spilled over with tears. We asked ourselves over and over
again how we were going to carry on living. It was then that I came to the
decision that life must go on and that we had other children and, soon,
In Madrid, someone from the embassy was trying to get us a
connection to Tel Aviv. In the afternoon we finally boarded a plane to Israel,
and the first thing I did was to ask for an Israeli newspaper. Among the
pictures was a photograph of Shahar looking at me from the front page, and I
burst into tears.
The flight to Israel had to land in Geneva because of a
storm, and then they discovered that there was a problem with the airplane, and
until it was repaired the flight was put off. Despite the continuing worry that
we would not get to Israel in time for the funeral, I tried to find out from the
El Al employees what our options were, as Roni had notified me that they were
delaying the funeral until the last moment possible, at 11 a.m. on Friday. I
asked for a further delay, and they agreed to 2 p.m.
I phoned the Israeli
security official in Zurich, who is an old friend of mine. He said that at 7
a.m. there was a flight from Paris that would get in on time. We arranged a taxi
to take us from Geneva to Paris and drove throughout the long night.
a.m. another embassy official was waiting for us at Orly airport and immediately
put us on board the flight that was about to depart for Tel Aviv.
LANDED in Israel, and on the runway an army military minibus was waiting
together with our two older children, Einat and Sagi. We all fell into each
other’s arms, crying and sobbing. Together we started our journey to the
cemetery of Ness Ziona. On our way, at the Beit Oved crossroads, we met up with
the command car carrying Shahar’s coffin, and it was thus that all the members
of the family arrived together at the cemetery.
Thousands of people
filled the cemetery. I remember nothing.
I was led forward, I said
kaddish, and then we went home, leaving Shahar forever on the hill where he was
Several hours later, the reporter on TV announced that the last
of the fallen soldiers who had died in the helicopter crash, Shahar Rozenberg,
had been laid to rest.The writer is the father of fallen soldier Shahar