‘You were my best friend and you were a hero’

Hundreds of mourners gather in Rishon Lezion’s military cemetery to bid farewell to 21-year-old St.-Sgt. Maj. Ilan Sviatkovsky.

Ilan Sviatkovsky  (photo credit: IDF)
Ilan Sviatkovsky
(photo credit: IDF)
Hundreds of mourners, including dozens of uniformed soldiers, gathered in Rishon Lezion’s military cemetery on Sunday to bid farewell to 21-year-old St.-Sgt. Maj. Ilan Sviatkovsky, a son of the city who was killed two days earlier in a firefight in southern Gaza.
Sviatkovsky died along with his commander, Maj. Eliraz Peretz, who was killed when a bullet struck a grenade he was carrying on his vest. Sviatkovsky’s death came eight months before he was to finish his army service and head off to India with his brother Arik.
Just before leaving for his final operation, Sviatkovsky, who also saw heavy action with the Golani Brigade during Operation Cast Lead, updated his Facebook page with the status line: “Last Saturday in Gaza.”
On Saturday, his friends flooded the page with messages, turning it into a virtual memorial. On Sunday, Arik bid farewell to a hero he was “proud to call his brother.”
Fighting back tears, Arik said kaddish for his brother before saying, “Every time I close my eyes, I see you coming home from the army, saying, ‘What’s up, brother?’ and giving me a hug, something that will now never happen again. I miss you and your smile and your laugh so much. For me you weren’t only a brother; you were my best friend, and you were a hero.”
“I will try to be strong here for you, even though inside I am torn apart. I know you will protect us from above and I will miss you every day of my life,” Arik said.
Golani Brigade commander Col. Avi Peled spoke of Ilan Sviatkovsky’s role in fighting “to dismantle the terror infrastructure in Gaza.” Sviatkovsky “took part in this operation full of motivation,” Peled said.
“Ilan served as a fighter in the Barak battalion of the Golani Brigade out of true love for the Land of Israel. For a number of reasons, I found out about his greatness only now. He was a young man, a new immigrant, who volunteered for combat service and served as a prime example of morals and responsibility. He was a friend, a fighter and a man.”
Sviatkovsky carried out his orders “with determination and a full heart, and served as an example to all those around him,” the colonel said.
Speaking to Sviatkovsky’s family, Peled said. “The pain and loss you are suffering will be with you for the rest of your days, but I can promise you, that for the rest of your days, you will be an inseparable part of the Golani family.”
Sviatkovsky’s family immigrated to Israel from Uzbekistan in 1994, when Ilan was five years old. Out of the desire to be recognized as officially Jewish by the State, Ilan went through a long and complicated conversion process during his army service.
Before the funeral, Ben Haik told The Jerusalem Post that his friend Ilan “was always happy and smiling and loved everyone, and was always worried about everyone around him.”
Haik, who along with several other young mourners was wearing a T-shirtwith Ilan’s picture and the words “forever in our hearts” printed onit, said, “I thought we’d always be together. He called me an hourbefore he died, but I didn’t answer because I was sleeping.”
“He was an amazing guy, everyone loved him, it was impossible not to,” Ben Haik said.