Carrying on Hadar’s legacy

The family of Hadar Goldin, who was killed during Operation Protective Edge, partners up with Yemin Orde pre-military academy participants to continue making the world a better place.

Participants in Yemin Orde pre-military academy performing a flash-mob dance to the infectious tune of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” (photo credit: ARIEL BESOR)
Participants in Yemin Orde pre-military academy performing a flash-mob dance to the infectious tune of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”
(photo credit: ARIEL BESOR)
On a recent Thursday afternoon, at the entrance to the crowded Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, as shoppers moved quickly from one vegetable stall to another and carried out their Shabbat preparations, a group of young men in white shirts gathered, most of them of Ethiopian origin.
They were all participants in a pre-military academy (mechina) called Yemin Orde, which is located in Hatzor Haglilit. The group had prepared a flash-mob dance to the infectious tune of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.”
On the edge of the group, Tzur Goldin stood out as he tried to keep up with the others. Tzur is the twin brother of Hadar Goldin, who was killed in Operation Protective Edge.
The story of how he was killed in Gaza and his body taken by Hamas has become one of the most painful moments of last summer’s war.
Nearby stood Ayelet, Goldin’s sister, as she clapped along to the beat of the music. “This is just crazy!” she says enthusiastically, letting happiness replace her sadness for a moment.
“What’s nice is that all the boys are happy and having a good time. Look how big their smiles are. They’ve become one big family, and Hadar was part of this. I keep thinking to myself, ‘Hadar needs to come see this.’” The connection between the Goldin family and the boys from Yemin Orde didn’t begin recently; this relationship began almost immediately after Hadar died last August, and shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
Prof. Simcha Goldin, Hadar’s father, showed a depth of much warmth and openness when he interacted with the Yemin Orde participants.
“Hadar left us many challenges and we’re trying to accomplish all of them one by one,” Simcha says. “We’re spending all of our time now making connections within Israeli society, especially between the religious and secular communities, running leadership workshops. We’re focusing on the positive aspects of Israeli society and aren’t letting ourselves get bogged down with anything negative.
Hadar had a hard time leaving anyone behind, and so he just pulled everyone up alongside him.”
Tzur adds, “Engaging Ethiopian Israelis and helping them integrate into Israeli society was a part of who Hadar was. It wasn’t their separateness that bothered him, it was just that he understood we couldn’t ignore their voices. That’s what he believed and I agree with him. I’ve fought alongside many Ethiopian soldiers and had Ethiopian friends at school.
“I once had an Ethiopian soldier under my command who would show up late every Sunday morning and since I was a commander in the Paratroop Brigade, I had to punish him. And then one day he explained to me that he’d been taking his mother for medical treatment every week, and that he didn’t care what his punishment was, he was going to continue taking her. So I finally understood,” he says.
THE YEMIN Orde Men’s Leadership Program for Immigrant Youth was established in 2000. Every year, 60 boys join the ranks, about 55 complete the program, and so far more than 600 participants have completed the program. Eighty percent of the participants come from the Ethiopian community. Participants experience 10 months of intensive programs, in which they learn about Israeli history, geography and Zionism, as well as how to make a presentation in front of an audience and, of course, undergo intensive pre-military training. A lot of the boys who come to Yemin Orde are from difficult backgrounds, and yet just this past year five graduates of the program received the prestigious President’s Award for Excellence.
“I feel completely Israeli, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know there are many issues I must deal with,” says Avi Mangisto, a Yemin Orde participant who is joining the Kfir Brigade next month. “If someone were to come up to me and tell me I’m not Israeli, I would just explain to him that he’s ignorant or doesn’t understand. But I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by people who would always say that I belong here.”
Ayelet, who works for the Jewish Agency in Hatzor Haglilit and Rosh Pina, was the one who formed the bond between the Goldin family and the mechina. When Hadar was killed, the family came up with the idea to create a program with the pre-army academy in his honor.
It turns out that Hadar was a prolific writer. He wrote to the soldiers under his command, as well as to his commanding officers. He wrote about deep ideas and values. Yemin Orde took a few of his writings and created a program based on them, called “In Hadar’s footsteps”. Members of the Goldin family have given lectures in which they talk about Hadar and all the amazing things he managed to accomplish in his short life. You can almost feel the excitement in the air when Simcha recalls how one of the mechina participants said to him recently, “How does a person raise children like those?” “We have a week-long training session at a paratroopers’ base,” says Eyal Eldar, the director of Yemin Orde.
“The week is mostly spent undergoing mental training, at the end of which I write a review of each participant. The officers at the base told me that the soldiers asked permission to have a few minutes on their own before the exercise. They called it the 'Hadar lineup.' It turns out that as an officer, Hadar would sometimes stop everything and make his soldiers sit in a U formation. Then every soldier had to talk about something that happened that week that expressed a positive value. It was absolutely incredible. I’d never heard of anything like this before – and he was so young!”
Simcha has heard endless stories like this one about his son. “I think he probably would have been a teacher if he were still alive,” says Simcha. “He wanted to continue serving in the army and become a commander, but his true love was education.”
In response to the claim that young people today are superficial and materialistic, Simcha says, “I’ve met quite a few people my kids’ ages, around 20, and it’s just not true. I teach at a university and I see that this is just not true. I see a true depth. They say that the kids coming out of the national- religious community are the ones most invested in improving society, but if you look at the soldiers who were killed in Operation Protective Edge, they were certainly not predominantly from religious families. All of them were such quality people. The media is just always looking for an angle. It doesn’t focus on the positive sides of youth today.”
THE PRE-ARMY academy participants performed the flash-mob dance every 15 minutes. They’d been practicing for weeks so they could all be in sync. It was really important to them to get it right, like a test of personal independence.
“If you’d come to us 10 months ago and said, ‘Let’s organize a flash-mob dance together,’ we would not have succeeded,” Avi admits. “Although we were excited about being in the academy, we were very immature back then. Today we’re dancing with smiles on our faces and love in our hearts, even though we went to sleep at 4 in the morning and woke up at 6.”
Tzur, who helped the Yemin Orde boys prepare the dance, says, “Last week they held a brainstorming workshop in which they spoke about the various ways today might unfold, and all the ways the dance could go wrong. For example, they discussed what they’d do if the night before there’d been more demonstrations by Ethiopian Israelis, and a TV reporter shows up at Hacarmel Market and asks them if this was connected to the demonstrations. They discussed ways of dealing with the situation.
“It was very smart of them to prepare for these scenarios. So they decided to all wear white shirts, in order to encourage people to ask them what kind of group they are and they’d be able to explain properly,” he adds.
I asked Tzur if he thinks the boys understand what kind of reality they’re going to be entering in just a few short weeks, and he responds, “No. Definitely not.”
David Azanga, who will be enlisting in the Paratroop Brigade, says, “After you’ve been through a preparatory program and been taught the skills necessary to survive in the army, you think to yourself, ‘Nothing in the army’s going to be too tough for me. I’m going to conquer the world.’” I asked them if they’re not scared after seeing how tragically Hadar’s life ended.
“It’s scary to think that I might face such a dangerous situation, too,” Avi says. “No one wants to be caught in that kind of situation, but it’s really important to me to have a meaningful experience in the army. Whether I end up fighting in a war or just doing three years of guard duty, I’ll do whatever needs to be done to the best of my abilities.”
Simcha looked over at the boys who were so happily dancing. “Some of them will soon be serving on the front lines.
They cannot rest on their laurels because it doesn’t look like our enemies have joined the peace camp just quite yet. I guess the 1.8 million Arabs living in Gaza will not be getting rid of the 30,000 Hamas operatives any time soon. The best solution would be if the Gazans would realize that Hamas is not helping and kick them out of Gaza. This is the only solution – otherwise they’ll just continue to suffer. We don’t have any alternatives, but the Gazans do. They need to kick Hamas out and turn Gaza into Singapore.”
When asked whether the IDF could have gotten Hamas out of Gaza, Simcha replies, “How many troops can we send in? I don’t think we need to do their work for them. The people living there need to decide for themselves if they want to fight us all the time. If they want to change the situation, then they need to do it themselves. We have already withdrawn from Gaza. They don’t have any more excuses.”
IN THE few minutes between each flashmob dance, the Yemin Orde participants passed out to passersby in the shuk magnets and purple bracelets with quotes from Hadar, such as “There’s always something you can do.”
Hadar was not much of a talker, as his brother Tzur can testify. “He was obsessed about not becoming well-known for his actions. He wasn’t shy – he was just modest. We were very different. My mother used to say that we complemented each other so well.”
Tzur was discharged from the IDF a few months ago and is starting his university studies. He plans to return to the army in the future. For now, he wants to focus his energy on hasbara, public diplomacy, by giving lectures to people in the US about Israel.
“Sometimes, when I’m just going about my day, like going to a movie with some friends, I end up talking with people around me, people from all walks of life. I never expected to be in this position, but because of who Hadar was and the amazing things he did, I’ve been swept up in this movement.”
Although the Goldin family was full of smiles and optimism in the market, they are still waiting impatiently for Hadar’s body to be returned to Israel. “I would prefer not to disclose any information about efforts being made recently on that issue,” Tzur says. “But as a family we feel it is our responsibility to keep this issue at the forefront and remind the Israeli public that we must work to get Hadar back, as well as Oron Shaul.
“Their kidnapping has not been mentioned much in the media recently, and so we would like to remind the Israeli people that we still have not brought them home. We met with President [Reuven] Rivlin and we are in constant contact with military officials. We understand that great efforts are being made, but we are here to give the extra push to bring them home quicker and to remind the Israeli public that two of our sons haven’t made it home yet.”
The flash-mob dance starts up once again. These excited young men have a lot of energy and their dance looks great. When they’re done, Ayelet thanks everyone for coming. It hasn’t even been a year since Hadar was taken. When I ask Ayelet how this past year has been for her, she replies, “I feel like we’re still standing in the exact same spot. We’re still looking for Hadar and nothing makes sense. Time has lost all sense of meaning.
“We’re not even at a place where we could say, ‘Hadar could have been here enjoying himself right now.’ Instead, we’re saying, ‘Wait a minute – where’s Hadar?’ For me, time has just stopped. I’m learning to live with it, but the intensity of the pain and the irrationality of the whole situation haven’t changed.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.