'I always told him, 'Take care of yourself''

"He was determined to be in a combat unit. He talked of nothing else."

matan ovdati 224 88 (photo credit: IDF)
matan ovdati 224 88
(photo credit: IDF)
Sgt. Matan Ovdati, 19, had planned to spend Wednesday evening in Beersheba with his mother, shopping for a present for his younger brother's birthday celebration the next day. He called the night before to remind her. "He wanted to get his brother Ben a Play Station," his mother, Hadassah, said. Instead, Ovdati was one of three Givati Brigade soldiers killed early on Wednesday morning as they tried to stop a border infiltration near Kibbutz Be'eri. That evening, instead of chauffeuring Ovdati through Beersheba's streets, Hadassah watched as her son's body was lowered into the grave in a small military cemetery in Ofakim, surrounded by hundreds of mourners. As the sun set and the national flag fluttered overhead, soldiers fired off a salute. So many friends and relatives came to the family's home in Moshav Patish, on the Gaza border, that they spilled out of the house and into a large blue plastic tent set up on the lawn. Sitting on a mattress on the floor of her living room, which had already been cleaned for Pessah, Hadassah said that she had not wanted her son to serve in a combat unit. He could have been exempt because her husband died a year-and-a-half ago, she said. "But he was determined to be in a combat unit. It was all he wanted," said his older sister Hen, sitting on the mattress next to her mother. "He talked of nothing else." Eventually, Hadassah said, she relented and signed the release form so he could serve in a combat unit. "I always told him, 'Take care of yourself." Hadassah said. He dismissed her fears and responded, "Mother, don't worry." "He wasn't afraid, just the opposite," Hen added. So Hadassah was not concerned on Wednesday morning when her boss called her into his office and told her to sit down. "I never imagined this. "I started to hit myself from sorrow I was so upset," Hadassah said, as her daughter put her hand on her leg to comfort her. "It was such a normal morning," said Hen. Then, suddenly, with a ring of the phone on her desk at work in the bank, it all fell apart. "My mother didn't tell me then that he was dead. Just that he was wounded and that I should come home," she said. Matan, she said, was the kind of person who always wanted to help people. After his father's death, he tried to fill in for him, Hen added. "On Friday night he always made sure to come home to say kiddush for me," Hadassah said. "He was quiet and funny," said Hen. He liked computers and the Maccabi Haifa soccer team, she said. He was still too young to have future plans, she said when quizzed about what he wanted to do after the army. "He had only been there for a year." "Everyone loved him," said Matan's uncle Arik Ovdati. "He was a leader in his unit. For his family he was like a present who was taken away one month before his 20th birthday." It bothered him that no government representatives came to the funeral. "Oh, right," he said, "I forgot, they're on vacation." Arik was in Haifa when he heard the news. He spent the drive down south on the phone, in hope there had been a mistake. He held onto that feeling until he was called to identify the body. Inside the home, the few photos of Matan spread out on the sofa made a neighbor burst into tears. "When he got on the bus to go to the army, he didn't know he would return in a coffin," she said.