Benjy Hillman: In appreciation

A close family friend's reflection on the life of Maj. Benjy Hillman who was killed on Thursday.

benji hillman 298 88IDF (photo credit: IDF)
benji hillman 298 88IDF
(photo credit: IDF)
Friday, July 21, 1:30 p.m. I am standing among 1,000 people in an open area on the outskirts of Ra'anana. The crowd is embracing one another but the silence is deafening. There is little shade from the burning midday sun, but not one word of discomfort can be heard. I close my eyes and am taken back to my earliest childhood memories. We are on a family holiday in Bournemouth, England, with our closest family friends. Benjy, the second child in his family, and I, the second child of my parents, know each other very well. Our mothers are best friends. We play for hours with toy cars and building blocks. We attend the same kindergarten and sit next to each other at the synagogue's children's service. We are all very excited to be at the seaside with each other, doing together what kids do, making a racket and deciding together on the important things in life, like who's taking the top bunk. I am not sure if I am going further back in time or further forward, but another holiday is also spent with the same family friends, and Benjy and I are racing around the resort on our stabilized bicycles. Another memory is of both families at the airport. For some reason my family had driven to the airport to watch Benjy and his family go on holiday because only they came with luggage. My mum is clearly upset when saying goodbye to Benjy's mum. They are both crying. It's the first time I see my mum crying, and it's the first time I see an airplane with a Magen David on its tail. From the top of Heathrow Airport's multilevel car park I wave at the plane as it takes off. I think I had doubled my age by the time I saw Benjy again. By now he and his siblings are speaking Hebrew and living a new life in Israel. He is living dangerously, swerving round the car park under his apartment block on a skateboard. I'm not sure if I'm too scared to have a go, or possibly my mother forbids me to even try. I re-open my eyes as everybody's attention is turned towards the army ambulance bringing Benjy Hillman's body to his final resting place. His coffin, draped in an Israeli flag, rests on the shoulders of his army companions, marching slowly, with the entire dignity one would expect to be afforded a head of state, towards his place among the young heroes of Israel. Apart from a faded but pleasant childhood memory, I can't claim that I knew Benjy, the name by which he continued to be known to his family, military generals, and the hundreds of Israel's sons for whom he was their commander. But the sentiments shared by those who tearfully eulogized him distinguished Benjy as the absolute model of a committed Jew and IDF commander. His charming character and his dedication to his position as the commander of one of Israel's most elite units made him loved and respected by all those who served above and below him. The needs of his soldiers took precedence over his own and in battle he always led from the front. Witnessing my first military funeral, and please God my last, the overwhelming emotion is a feeling of complete futility at not being able to prevent Benjy's tragic death and saving the anguish of his dear parents, sister, brother, grandmothers and wife of three weeks. Only by being present at this event, an event being repeated three times at similar locations on the same day for Benjy's three comrades killed on the same battlefield, does one appreciate the magnitude and significance that the loss of one soldier has on our small and vulnerable nation. In Jewish teachings we learn that saving one life is comparable to saving the world. On seeing Benjy, my first friend, being lowered into this precious ground I felt just this one loss was comparable to the loss of our entire nation. Maj. Benjy Hillman, a commander in the Egoz Battalion, was killed on Thursday in Lebanon.