Sergeant First Class (res.) Yair Ashkenazi was killed during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, in 2014. Ever since, his widow Moria and his community are remembering him in various ways. In an interview, ahead of Yom HaZikaron, she tells the family's story, and explains how COVID changed the ceremonies last year and what advantages came with it
Moria knew Yair Ashkenazi since childhood. Their families lived next to each other in Acre and their mothers became very good friends. "That is why, when we first started dating, it was quite awkward for everyone. We suddenly found ourselves in unusual situation and family events that we were attending together, as a couple", says Moria in a special interview, ahead of Yom HaZikaron 2021.
But even though they had to adjust to their new status, their love was stronger than anything else: "We had a special connection, good life together, unbelievable communication and great love". And so, after three years of dating, they were married in 2004. At the time, Yair was studying at the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon LeZion, while Moria worked as a coordinator for bereaved families at Yad Lebanim: "Absurd, irony. I guess life was preparing us to this moment…".
The couple had three kids, the youngest being born in early 2014. Several months later, Yair received an emergency order ("Tzav Shmone"), calling him to join his reserves battalion that was entering the Gaza Strip as part of Operation Protective Edge, which began as Hamas kept bombing Israeli civilians with rockets.
About a week after being drafted, Yair's force was fighting in Gaza. He was killed in the morning of Friday, July 25, 2014, will protecting his country on operational activity on enemy land. Yair was survived by his wife Moria, two boys, a girl, his parents and three sisters.
That summer, Yair was planning on traveling to the US, in order to tell his fascinating life and IDF service story at the annual fundraiser hosted by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces organization. Moria and the kids traveled instead, beginning to eternize the man they loved so dearly. Ever since, Moria says, "most of the immortalization was coming to me from others. I always made sure to be everywhere they wanted to remember Yair and cooperated with everything, but I guess because of Yair's unique personality, many people who got to know him throughout his life wanted to do something special to honor him. There were even people who never met him and still helped us eternize him in many ways. This is our reality as a bereaved family – while we live this daily, the society feels the need to create things in order to eternize those who lost their lives".
For example, one of Yair's close friends initiated a special radio program named "His life's soundtrack". The program aired in Radio 88FM by Boaz Cohen, the broadcaster they enjoyed listening to for many years. It was aired on Moria and Yair's first anniversary following his death and later, was also distributed as a CD with songs he liked and letters his friends wrote him.
"I have so many other examples", says Moria. "At that trip we made to the US there were already some powerful moments and events, and a few years ago, someone in our neighborhood, through Chabad, funded a new Sefer Torah named after Yair. They came to our house to write the first words and worked on it for about two years, and just a week ago my son celebrated his Bar Mitzvah and read from this Sefer Torah. It was so emotional and touching". In that very same neighborhood in Rehovot you can also find "Shevet Yair", a scout's troop named after Ashkenazi.
Naturally, a large part of the immortalization revolves around Yom HaZikaron every year, but in 2020, due to COVID-19 restrictions, things were different for Moria, her kids and the rest of the bereaved families in Israel: "We could not have our regular ceremony, so we joined the beautiful online project that was created by Miriam Peretz's sons. The entire ceremony took place on Zoom, so we were still able to be there, all the families, at the time of the siren, with the commanders and friends of our loved ones".
Usually, after the annual ceremony, Moria opens her house to everyone in attendance and they sit down together to tell more stories and memories: "Last year I did notice that Zoom was helping many people be more open and tell new things, that we never heard before. It was kind of a blessing in disguise. In addition, there are people who cannot attend the ceremony, due to age or distance, and suddenly they were also able to be with us".
As a result of that, and even though she will be back at the cemetery this year, Moria is considering using the digital option again: "It was hard not seeing everyone in person last year, but it also had some power to it, because each of us, including me, were able to take a deeper look into the situation, and see new things. I did not have to be there for everyone else and represent something. It was just me, with my thoughts of Yair, myself and our family".
If you wish to be part of a virtual remembrance event this year on Yom HaZikaron, enter the "Zochrim" website and sign in for the new digital project, a collaboration between Yad Lebanim, IDF Widows and Orphans Organization and the Ministry of Defense. You can choose to be either "hosts" or "visitors" and join an online event for a fallen soldier.
For questions send an e-mail to email@example.com or call 074-7871617 (between 10am and 8pm).