Today is Gadi's day: The Price of Freedom

 I wish to write something totally personal, yet something at the same time totally universal.
We Jews are in the days between Passover, when we celebrate our freedom and birth as a nation over three thousand and three hundred years ago, and Israel Independence Day, when we celebrate the re-establishment of our freedom and rebirth of our sovereignty in our ancestral and modern homeland. To us – both are at once miraculous yet also very much rooted in real life and this real world.
Anyone who understands anything knows that real freedom comes only with great effort and the willingness to pay the price for freedom. For Passover we eat the bitter herbs to remember the bitterness of subjugation, whether outwardly to a foreign yolk, or inwardly to addictive inclinations that curtail our free will. It's also a reminder of the constant need for energetic efforts to maintain that inner and outer freedom.
In modern Israel that effort to pursue, maintain and expand political, cultural and spiritual freedom, is both close and urgent to us, as if tomorrow can't be taken for granted, but also reassuring and even relaxing, with all the confidence and reassurance that only an ancient and reborn nation like ours can think of and feel. Still, that price needed to pay for our independence, for our political and moral integrity, comes down to not just an articulated theory in general – but also to the real individuals who are called upon, and take upon themselves, the responsibility to pay it.
One of those brave, free and righteous souls, who paid the price for our freedom, was a former student of mine, Gadi Ezra. In a letter he left behind for his fiancée he wrote:
"If this letter reaches you, it's a sign that something has happened to me… I feel there's nothing I want more in the world than to love you and build a family with you, but on the other hand I want to go on this mission…"
That mission, Defensive Shield that started on March 29, 2002, was the result of years of terrible terror against Israeli civilians in Israel. That terror wave came after signing the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Arabs, in our naive hope of finally bringing peace to our corner of the world, a hope soon dissipated in a cloud of terrorism that made it clear that our partner was more interested in destroying us than in building himself. That terror wave climaxed in the Passover massacre, when an Arab suicide bomber killed thirty Jewish civilians and injured 140 at the Park Hotel in Israel on 27 March 2002, during a Passover eve ceremony (seder). It was the deadliest attack against Israelis during the "Oslo War", launched by the Palestinian Authority against Israel. In the wake of the massacre, Israel finally said enough and launched operation Defensive Sheild, to root out terror from the areas it had been allowed to organize. One of those places was the Jenin "refugee camp" which had been turned to a heavily fortified military camp.
One of the soldiers fighting there was Gadi. He was ready:
"… to strike at these evil terrorists, so that they won't even think to commit more terror atrocities because we'll be ready to strike them where it hurts, even if we have to pay a price. I'm willing to be that price… [if something should happen to me] I ask you to be happy, to love and to flower, because you deserve it… spread the message: No despair, always be happy… promise to continue living, don't let evil be the victor – be you the victor… Gadi."
Gadi was killed in the Jenin camp 14 years ago, fighting for our freedom, but also for our moral integrity. Israeli army forces operated in the camp going house to house, without artillery or air support, in order to keep Arab civilian casualties to a minimum. Despite all the libels about the battle, the truth is that 54 Arabs were killed, mostly gunmen, and 23 Israeli soldiers, including the son of an old friend from my youth movement, the son of our youth movement counselor and Gadi.
I wanted to write something totally personal, yet something at the same time totally universal. I write with a keyboard wet with tears.