Dear Phillip David,
We last saw each other when we were in 7th grade in the Makor Chaim school in Jerusalem, during recess in the schoolyard. We were both 13, both children of immigrants, both a bit nerdy. We both loved history, talking, and ended up having great conversations in the schoolyard during recess – while everyone else was playing ball.
After 7th grade, I skipped 8th and went straight to high school, so I never got to say goodbye, until that unexpected moment.
Years later, late at night preparing a lesson for my students I was looking up something about fallen Israeli soldiers – and there you were. Your smiling face – remaining 22 forever. There I was, late at night, sitting in front of my computer sobbing.
Nothing prepared me for this moment, a moment in which I got to “catch up” on all the amazing things you have been doing since we last saw one another – while simultaneously learning of your death.
I learned about your volunteering as a policeman, a medic, accompanying Holocaust education trips to Poland, and then fighting to get into a combat unit in the IDF. In the same moment that I learned of everything you have done and wanted to reconnect, I also learned you had died.
Despite being your mom’s only son, you wanted to join a combat unit, where you can also help as a medic. You were sent to Lebanon both as a medic and a part of a paratroopers’ unit. After two rounds in Lebanon and after helping many wounded soldiers, you went in for your third tour – from which you did not return. Your Puma IFV was hit by an anti-tank missile that cut short your beautiful life.
The countless people who knew your dedication, volunteerism and courage, spoke so much to who you grew up to be. Yet to me, sitting with tears rolling down my cheeks, you were the innocent, adorable, backyard friend with a heart of gold, always with a smile on your face.
I cried for the missed opportunity of not being able to get to know the amazing person you have become, your amazing mom and family who feel the pain of your lost life, and the beautiful life you would be sure to live had it not been cut short by Hezbollah and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps terrorists.
I will miss you, Philip David, and tears come to my eyes every time I speak or write about you. Yet all of this does not come close to the tears of your family, the pain and loss of countless Israeli families who lost their children, siblings, parents and family members.
Remembrance Day now reminds me of you, Philip David. It also gives me the smallest idea of the immeasurable intimate pain of so many Israelis who have lost the most precious of all, in defending Israel.
I think of Rachel Shapira’s poem “Ma Avarech” written in memory of her classmate who died in the Six Day War. “This boy is now an angel… oh, God, God, God, if you only blessed him with – life.” If only.
The writer is an eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.