Renewing their pact to bring the worst delivery

Two brothers, whose father died in service, inform families of soldiers’ deaths.

Hagai Cohen 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hagai Cohen 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The day army officials knocked on the door of Hagai and Yigal Cohen’s home in Nahariya, some 30 years ago, the brothers did not immediately realize what was happening. But when they heard their mother’s screams, they knew something terrible had happened: They lost their father to a heart attack while he was serving his reserve duty in Eilat. Today, they regularly confront the memory of that painful experience.
Each year as part of their reserve duty, the brothers renew their voluntary agreement to serve in the IDF’s casualties department. They knock on the doors of families of fallen soldiers to announce their death.
“I remember not feeling well on Saturday night after Shabbat and not going to school the next day,” Yigal, who was 11 years old at the time, recalled. “I was home alone and I saw all the cars pulling up.”
When the officials asked for his mother, he told them that she was over at his grandmother’s house helping her with Passover cleaning, a few steps away. Shortly after they went over, Yigal heard the screams. The brothers were sent to spend the night at family friends to be away from the crisis.
Hagai, who was six at the time, doesn’t remember much of his father except that he worked at the local post office, where he often used to take him as a child.
“I also remember he was into sports because I have memories of running with him,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
Hagai, 38, manages a food store while his older brother Yigal, 44, works for the Prisons Service.
They each have four children.
Their decision to volunteer to announce the death of soldiers to their families came out of a sense of a personal mission.
“It’s obviously not what I dreamed of doing as a kid,” Hagai explained. “But it comes from a place of duty, that in such a tragic event, you can try to appease it as much as it is even possible.
“When you arrive to the family’s house and when you leave, it is two different worlds,” he continued.
“`Each time you get those butterflies in your stomach.
Even the people who are very strong and dominant in their daily lives, break in one moment, and you understand that even if they are adults, you need to be there as the adult in that moment.
Hagai said that when he arrives, he explains that he can relate to what the family is going through.
“I come each time as that same child with that same experience.”
he said. “Usually I even look around to find the same sixyear- old kid in the room.”
Both brothers said that the anticipation and fear before the announcements never abates.
Yet, Yigal feels that he has accumulated experience with time.
“You start developing all kinds of abilities,” Yigal said. “You start knowing how to adapt yourself to the situation in the home and you know more or less how to approach each person.”
“Each event is unique,” he continued.
“You never know who is on the other side of that door, and time doesn’t make it better.”
Hagai added that in most cases, when the family sees them arrive, they are aware of what is happening.
“They know in an instant and most of the time, you say it because you have to clearly say it,” he said. “The first shock is very strong.”
Yigal remembers one announcement where three soldiers were killed in a car accident.
The family, who were Russian immigrants, didn’t understand who the soldiers were and what they were there for.
“Until we told the father [and then] he started screaming. The mother was in pajamas and she didn’t understand. We sat her down on the sofa and we had to repeat it to her three times,” he said.
From the moment they announce the death of a soldier, the brothers’ job requires that they accompany the family until the start of the shiva mourning period. After, for ethical reasons, the brothers cut all contact with them.
“You have to hit a psychological switch and disconnect, so that you don’t make the situation more complex,” Yigal told the Post.
“It is just not a healthy situation to have a friendship with them,” Hagai added. “In some cases, I even see parents who I announced a death to around town, in the supermarket where I work, and most people don’t remember it’s me, and I don’t go and remind them.”
The brothers’ responsibility requires them to be on constant alert and after each announcement, they attend a debriefing session. They are offered psychological assistance if they feel its necessary.
“When you go home, you just want to be with your kids, your wife, your family more,” Yigal explained. “But I think the solution is to hit a switch and go back to your routine, and you just erase the thoughts.
“I look back and I know I tried to help, to do some sort of blessed work and bring a personal touch,” he said. “Today, you could just send an SMS or use technology. It’s something that I appreciate and its important that the IDF invests a lot of means even into those things.”
At the Casualties Department, Lieut.-Col. Yoram Hasson explained that the division’s main occupation is the treatment of bereaved families or handicapped and wounded soldiers and their families.
The department, which works on a 24/7 basis, handles each case onward from the moment the soldier was injured or died.
Hasson said in his opinion that informers like the Cohen brothers serve the most difficult job in the field.
He explained their job has to be done rapidly, to avoid a situation in which the family finds out about a death before the informers are able to announce it face to face.
“The hardest moment for me is the moment when I give the order to the informers,” Hasson said. “I know that the family’s life will change drastically in a single moment.”
Hasson said that the best thing for his department would be to have no work at all.
“I wish for the people of Israel that from this Remembrance Day to the next... we won’t have to add more names to tombstones.”
According to data provided by the IDF Spokesman’s Office, there have been 16,816 IDF fallen soldiers since the state’s Declaration of Independence until the most recent count this year.
Thirty-seven soldiers have died since last year’s Remembrance Day.