‘It’s become a home of sorts for us’

A single section of Kiryat Shaul’s military cemetery paints a picture of the myriad ways bereaved families choose to remember loved ones.

Woman at soldier's grave 311 (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Woman at soldier's grave 311
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Zahava Vider of the Jordan Valley Moshav Bakaot adjusted a wind chime above the graves of her daughter Sivan Vider and her son-in-law Ze’ev Vider at the Kiryat Shaul cemetery outside Tel Aviv on Monday. The two were murdered along with 28 others in the Park Hotel suicide bombing in Netanya in 2002, one of the most horrific terror attacks of the second intifada.
Following the official ceremony, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a handful of families remain to console one another around the graves of fallen young men and women. Nearby, young soldiers from the Home Front Command and the Kfir Brigade clean up the empty water bottles scattered on the walkways.
Staff Sergeant Sivan Vider had been a course instructor at an IDF infantry school when she was killed while her husband was a retired colonel in the Communications Corps.
Zahava was also at the Park Hotel seder during the attack, but said she was called away from her table by a nephew and so was spared by the blast. Sivan’s sister Gili also lost her fiancée, Avraham Beckerman, in the bombing.
A long string of wind chimes hangs above Ze’ev and Sivans’ graves, as well as above the other headstones in row five of the 19th section of area two at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery.
Vider said the string the chimes hang on was put up by the step-father of fallen IDF Paratroops Major Asaf Asoulin, who was killed by friendly fire in Nablus in 2002 and is buried next to Ze’ev.
“We aren’t related to any of these people, and we didn’t know any of them at first, but over the years I guess it’s become a family of sorts,” Vider said.
Click for special Jpost featuresClick for special Jpost features
When asked if Sivan or Ze’ev had been particularly fond of wind chimes, she said, “No, just over time our lives started to be here more and more; and it became a kind of home for us. I always pick up seashells when I’m at the beach and bring them here, and every time I go abroad I buy a wind chime from whatever country I’m in,” she adds pointing to a faded bronze Oriental wind chime she said she picked up on a recent trip to Vietnam.
Vider said that Remembrance Day is not a single solitary day of the year she sets aside to mourn Sivan and Ze’ev, rather, “it’s all year-round, everywhere I go I see them before my eyes.”
Vider admitted that her family has “a very strange way” of dealing with their loss, saying that not a single family dinner or get together goes by when they don’t mention Sivan and Ze’ev. She added that “everyone goes about it a different way” and related how she used to see a haredi man come every Shabbat to pay his respects to his fallen son buried nearby. She once asked him how as a religious person he comes that day, if according to Jewish law he is forbidden to go to cemeteries on Shabbat. He told her, “He’s my son, and this is how I deal with it.”
Beyond the official state Remembrance Day events, the ceremonies at the Western Wall and Mount Herzl, the phalanxes of schoolchildren clad all in white singing at military cemeteries across the country, a walk around a single section of the Kiryat Shaul cemetery shows that each family finds their own way to deal with the pain of losing a loved one.
While the IDF standard issue headstones differ little from one another, the decorations that adorn them run from elaborate flower arrangements to brigade flags to mementos like a miniature surfboard stuck into the turf above one soldier’s grave.
A row of headstones belonging to soldiers born in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Moldova lies tucked into a corner of the cemetery section. On one of these graves; that of Corporal Felix Nikolaichuk, 20, killed in the 2003 Hamas bombing next to Tzrifin Military base, the words “From Papa, Mama, Sasha, and Babushka” are chiseled in Cyrillic.
Two rows back from Sivan and Ze’ev Vider’s headstones is one that belongs to Mordechai “Motta” Gur, the IDF’s 10th Chief of Staff, while two rows in the other direction lies Benyamin “Benny” Avraham, one of three IDF soldiers killed and snatched by Hezbollah in the bombing at Har Dov in 2000.
Both Gur and Avraham’s headstones are lightly marked, in a sense illustrating that regardless of whether a former soldier was famous in his service or famous for the circumstances of his death, how his resting place is marked is purely a family affair.