'I told him: Watch over yourself'

soldier_killed_asulin (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Doron Asulin, 20, was so excited to hear that he was heading into Gaza that he called a close childhood friend, Elchanan Cohen, to tell him, "We've stopped playing games. We're going to fight!" On Friday, the young soldier continued to text message and call his friend, with the last conversation coming in two or three minutes before Shabbat started. "I do not know when I'll be able to talk with you again," Asulin told Cohen. "That was the last conversation," Cohen said, as he reminisced on Sunday about Asulin, who was one of two soldiers killed on Saturday morning in a gun battle in Gaza. A member of Asulin's unit, Cohen had been on leave at home because of a hand injury. He had left his cellular phone on by mistake, even though he typically shuts it off for Shabbat. All day Saturday, he noted that it kept ringing, even though all his friends know he's observant and never answers on Shabbat, Cohen told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. But sitting in uniform on a plastic white chair set up in the hallway outside of Asulin's Beersheba apartment after the funeral on Sunday, Cohen said that for some reason it hadn't occurred to him to worry that a friend might have died, even though his unit had lost a commander the year before. "I still didn't think it would happen," he said. Still, he called his base immediately after sundown on Saturday, only to learn of his friend's death. As he spoke Sunday he moved his hand over his face, but paused to smile as he recalled the friend with whom he had studied in high school and traveled to Greece and gone on dozens of road trips. Asulin, he said, had loved to fish in Ashkelon. He had stuck a photograph of himself fishing with his father on the calendar that hung on his bedroom wall. In their last years of high school, he would call Cohen in the middle of the night and tell him to be ready to head to the ocean in 15 minutes - and off they would go. After the army, Asulin had planned to go on a trip to South America, said Cohen. He also had a serious girlfriend. "We teased him and told him it was time to set a date," Cohen recalled. He said that among the many things that had set Asulin apart was his ability to solve problems, said Cohen. Once he set his mind on a goal, he made it happen. He was skilled in soccer, basketball and karate and was so strong that his friends still recall how, in high school, he once held his own in a fight against five people. Cohen said that the army was interested in promoting Asulin to the job of instructor, but their unit commander didn't want to let him go because he was such a central figure. Asulin started his military service in the navy, but switched to a combat unit because he wanted to serve where he would be in the midst of the action, his uncle, Yitzhak Asulin, said. Yitzhak recalled how, during their final conversation last week, his nephew had been frustrated to find himself on the Egyptian border dealing with Sudanese refugees instead of in Gaza. Stuck on the closet of Asulin's room in his father's Beersheba apartment was a sticker that read, "Make peace, not war." But in practice, Cohen said, Asulin took the rocket threat on the residents of Sderot and Ashkelon very seriously. He felt that it was his duty to protect the citizens. Shortly after joining the army, he was in Sderot and found some rocket shards, which he brought home, Cohen recalled. Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal sent the family a telegram on Sunday to tell them that his thoughts and those of his city were with them. Asulin's father, Meir, held it in hand briefly and then put it aside, as he spoke with the Post about the last time he had seen his oldest child and only son, on Thursday. Doron had stopped by while he was in the city and they had spoken again on Friday before he went into Gaza. "I told him, 'Watch over yourself,'" recalled Meir. On Saturday, he knew his world had turned upside down when, on vacation in Eilat, he opened the door of his hotel room to find IDF officers there. "Tell me he's just wounded," Meir desperately asked them. But even as he framed the question, he knew it was in vain, since their presence had to mean that his son was dead. He described how Asulin had been shot in Gaza and then airlifted to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. On Saturday, he identified his son's body. On Sunday afternoon, he stood in a cemetery filled with hundreds of mourners. One female relative cried out, "Why a combat unit, why?" Standing next to Asulin's grave as the mourners filed out of the cemetery were the parents of Rami Zoari, 20, also of Beersheba, who was killed in January at a Shuafat checkpoint. They had come to visit their son's grave, located near Asulin's, and stayed for the funeral. As those who knew Asulin hugged each other before departing, Zoari's mother placed an eternal flame by her son's grave, and his father washed the stone down with water. Stuck on Zoari's grave was a bumper sticker with his photo and the words, "We won't forget."