Keeping my son’s memory alive

Shahar Rozenberg, was killed together with 72 other combat soldiers in the helicopter disaster over Sha’ar Yeshuv in 1997.

Shahar Rozenberg 390 (photo credit: Courtesy Arie Rozenberg)
Shahar Rozenberg 390
(photo credit: Courtesy Arie Rozenberg)
Fifteen years ago, on February 4, 1997, my youngest son, Shahar Rozenberg, was killed together with 72 other combat soldiers in the helicopter disaster over Sha’ar Yeshuv in the Upper Galilee. He was 20 years old.
Among the things we found in his room after his death was a kind of “will” requesting that we travel the world, as youngsters do. Since then, once a year, despite my current age of 65, I take my backpack and travel to distant countries.
On returning home, I publish my travel logs titled “To see in his/my eyes” or as Yehuda Poliker sings, “My shadow and I set out along the way.”
So far, “we” have visited India, Thailand, Mynamar (Burma), Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Fiji, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, Belize, Cuba, Panama, Zambia (Victoria Falls), Namibia, South Africa, Uganda, Zanzibar and Sri Lanka.
In all these places I see in his/my eyes, smell with his/my ears and taste with his/my mouth, thirsty to see more in order to make my son’s memory last forever.
Last week, I spoke in front of the students of Begin Junior High in Ness Ziona and invited them to embark with me on a trip to discover Uganda in the continent of Africa. A trip that is part of my effort to keep my son’s memory alive.
That morning was an extraordinary experience – one might even say a oncea- lifetime experience.
The silence in the auditorium filled with pupils who joined my shadow and I, trekking the thick, humid jungles, sailing on the white-crested waves of the source of the White Nile, climbing up and down mountains while searching for the human-like faces of the gorillas, dancing under the water of the Indian Ocean off the coast of Zanzibar with a family of dolphins and ending up excitingly meeting black Jews of the Abayaduya (Sons of Judah) in the Ugandan village of Putti near the border with Kenya.
The picture presentation came to an end and so did the video clip with a film that Shahar had taken of himself, telling the camera about his future death in Lebanon. The final chords of the song I had written, “Never Will I Come to Terms, Son,” sung by the Central Area Military Troupe, also came to an end.
The silence in the auditorium hung heavy in the air, the lights came on and grasping the podium I allowed myself to fall to pieces. My shoulders shook, my eyes reddened and I felt salty tears streaming down my cheeks. I could barely find the strength and simply said that I loved the Ness Ziona youngsters sitting in front of me.
Suddenly, a young girl sitting in one of the back rows asked if she could say something. In a voice strangled by tears she thanked me for finding the strength to come and talk in front of them, to bring our family story as it is and to show them the perspective of life as seen by a bereaved family. In the auditorium there were no dry eyes.
Her last sentence was, for me, the most important: “For us students, most of whom had not been born at that time, the helicopter disaster will, from now on, be remembered together with Shahar Rozenberg.”
I often speak in front of diverse audiences about my travels around the world, however, the embracing love shown by those youngsters was special and unique.
Shahar, son of Dvora and me, was born on Friday February 24, 1977, brother to Einat and Sagi. He grew up in Ness Ziona where he went to Rishonim elementary school, and then on to Ben- Gurion High School. Shahar belonged to the Maccabi Tzair Youth Movement where he was also a youth group leader.
He participated in the Maccabiah Games in 1981 and 1985. To his friends he was known as Shahik or Shaharon.
Humanist at heart, he loved reading about psychology and anthropology, especially about distant lands and cultures.
His favourite presents were books on art, especially Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dali and Picasso. He was interested in the writings of Nietzsche while at the same time being a fan of the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer team.
Shahar wrote short stories and poetry and left many treasured notebooks. He had many friends, especially from his hometown Ness Ziona.
Halfway through high school, Shahar found the love of his life, Anat, a very special girl who fitted him like a glove.
Both loved to travel all around the country, Negev, Sinai, the Judean Desert, the Carmel and the Galilee, but their favorite place was Mount Tabor. Shahar went abroad several times with his family but the most remembered trip was the one he organized for his friends and himself – their trip to the Greek Islands – before they were drafted into the army.
Shahar wanted to do combat duty.
However, he had to get special permission from his parents due to a medical problem. At the end of July 1995, Shahar started his military service and after basic training he joined a special forces unit of the Nahal Brigade.
On Tuesday evening, the 4th of February, 1997, there was a tragic disaster when two helicopters crashed above Sha’ar Yeshuv in the north of Israel. Seventy- three soldiers on their way to combat duty in South Lebanon were killed.
There were no survivors.
After his death, he was promoted to sergeant and buried in the military cemetery in Ness Ziona. He was survived by his parents, sister, brother, girlfriend and many friends.