Officer and gentleman: A farewell letter to Benny Gantz

You’ve touched the lives of so many of our women and children with the comfort you offered.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Benny dear,
After years in which our paths crossed in the most painful corridors or the Israeli society, in which you have revealed, layer after layer, the person, commander and leader you are, I take the liberty to begin with these words.
I remember, around the end of your first year as chief of staff, you attended the IDF Widows & Orphans Organization’s annual bar and bat mitzva celebration in Jerusalem.
I immediately saw you were tired and restless, probably after or in the midst of a busy day, maybe a week, probably a year.
“Working hard?” I asked, and added, “You need some rest.”
“I’ll get my rest in two years,” you responded immediately, not knowing that you would be asked to serve an additional year.
Your long days turned into long weeks, months and years, yet you never forgot the families of your fallen soldiers. You went out of your way not only to attend our events, but also made sure the families feel the warm hug of the military you led.
Few are the people who know how you personally spent every Friday afternoon after last summer’s Operation Protective Edge visiting family after family in their homes, making sure they all knew that the chief of staff as well as the entire army he commands were with them, and forever would be. You didn’t stop to rest but demonstrated how, in the spirit of the IDF, after the drive for victory comes responsibility, also for the families whose loved ones did not return from the bloody battlefield.
Not too long ago, in one of our events, you heard and saw a short film about the work our kids have done at Sgt. Assaf Filler’s memorial. Filler was killed in 1958 in a Syrian ambush from the Golan Heights, soon after he married Tiqva, now in her 80s.
When our kids, sons and daughters of Israeli fallen heroes themselves, learned about Assaf, that he didn’t live long enough to build his own family and that the memorial his friends built at the sight had been lost in a thicket, they made a decision.
During the next OTZMA camp, they located the memorial using old maps, cleared a path that was not walked in decades and rebuilt the memorial for someone they had never met yet feel so close to.
When you heard all that, we couldn’t not notice the sparkle in your eyes. In generous words, you said how proud you were in this place that brought young teenagers to act in such kind ways, in the shadow of their parents’ legacy.
Someone once said that people will not remember what you said; they will, however, remember how you made them feel.
Well, I don’t remember exactly what you said on that night, but none of us forgets how proud you made us feel.
You’ve touched the lives of so many of our women and children with the comfort you offered, with your warm words that came from your heart and gently entered ours, with your firm embrace of the children and the spirit of your leadership that was and still is present even when you weren’t.
Losing a husband and father is beyond a trauma, it is something we live with every day, every minute. It’s a pain that never goes away, as the dreams we dreamt with our spouses will never come true. Like the father who will never lay his hand on his son’s head at his bar mitzva or never walk down the aisle with his daughter on her happiest, now sad too, day of her life.
It is a pain that has no cure, but there is comfort to be found. The strength we find in each other at the warm home our organization has become, and the strength we find when we see Israel being the thriving country our husbands and fathers wanted it to be. And there is another important source for comfort – knowing that the IDF is with us in our journey.
We’re grateful for your leadership, for we in the IDF Widows & Orphans Organization know that our husbands and fathers fought under a great leader, exemplary commander and true mensch who is worthy of this historic role. That is, my friend, an enormous comfort.
Now, after 38 years of service – four as chief of staff – now Benny, please get some rest. Spend time with your wife, Revital, and your beautiful children and fill up these batteries before you get called back to the flag again, when Israelis ask that you resume your battle to make us a better society. Toda Raba!
The writer is chairwoman of the IDF Widows & Orphans Organization.