Triumph, tragedy at Peres´s Independence event (JERUSALEM POST) By GREER FAY CASHMAN 04/26/12)
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Just as Israel Independence Day is celebrated in the shadow of
Remembrance Day for the Fallen and the Victims of Terrorism, tragedy
hovered over the young lives of several of the 120 outstanding
soldiers who at the residence of the President of the State on
Thursday received citations and scholarships at the Independence Day
ceremony that each year pays tribute to the nation´s army, air force
Two of the soldiers Hagar Zohar and Shai Krichli, who were injured
last week when the rigging put up for Remembrance Day and
Independence Day ceremonies at Mount Herzl collapsed, killing Lt.
Hila Bezaleli and causing light to severe injuries to several other
soldiers, were unable to attend because they are still hospitalized.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz paid tribute to
Bezaleli and wished Zohar and Krichli a speedy recovery. He and
President Shimon Peres who visited the soldiers in hospital, will
give them their citations and scholarship certificates annually
awarded by The Association for the Wellbeing of Israel´s Soldiers
through the generosity of the Blavatnik Family Scholarship
Foundation. The 120 scholarships valued at NIS4,000 each, are donated
through the UK Friends of AWIS.
The death of Bezalali and the injuries of Zohar and Krichli were not
the only shadows hanging over the ceremony.
Zohar, though born and raised in Gedera, moved to New York with her
family, when she was 15, but returned to do her army service.
Among the other soldiers singled out as being outstanding was Chaya
Schijveschuurder, one of eight siblings, of whom three were murdered
together with their parents Mordechai and Tirza Schijveschuurder, in
the terrorist attack on the Sbarro pizza parlor in Jerusalem on
August 9, 2001. The family had migrated to Israel from Holland and
had settled in Neria in the North Talmon area of the West Bank. The
other members of the Schijveschuurder family who did not survive the
attack were Ra´aya 14, Avraham Yitzhak 4 and Hemda 2. Chaya who was 8
at the time was gravely injured. All in all there were 15 fatalities
plus the homicide/suicide bomber. The Schijveschuurder orphans more
or less brought themselves up with minimal assistance from welfare
authorities. The oldest siblings took charge and raised the younger
siblings and the family suffered unduly at the hands of Israel´s
bureaucracy. Yet for all that, their loyalty to the country remained
undiminished, and Chaya, after recovering from her injuries cherished
a dream to serve in the IDF Ė which she has done with distinction.
Another female soldier who has distinguished herself and who also
came to media attention before being chosen as an outstanding soldier
is IDF medic Anastasia Bagdelov, who is also a Magen David Adom
volunteer. In August 2011, terrorists opened fire on a bus traveling
to Eilat. Most of the passengers were soldiers, and several were
injured. Bagdelov treated them while waiting for help.
Nitai Giron, who comes from a Nahal family, is the youngest of four
brothers who served in Nahal as did their father before them. His
father died two months before Nitai was due to begin his stint in the
IDF and he was offered a deferral, which he opted not to take.
Ron Broier 20, lost his brother Dan in the Second Lebanon War. When
Ron was told that he had been selected as an outstanding soldier, his
response was that no matter what he does in the army, he´s always
thinking of what his brother Dan would say or do. His big hope was
that Dan was looking down on him and that he was proud of him.
Ori Gal from Kibbutz Beit Hashita, has lived with the fear of death
for six years. That´s how long his mother has been treated for
cancer. During his year of voluntary national service, his father was
also diagnosed with cancer and died ten months later. His mother is
still in treatment.
Zigato Dago Balai who serves with the paratroops, has six sisters. He
also had two brothers, one of whom died from natural causes at age
10, and another who died at age 18. Thus when the time came for
Zigato to join the army, his parents were fiercely opposed to him
joining a combat unit. But he insisted, and as a result became an
outstanding soldier. His parents are still unhappy about his choice
but are very proud of their son.
The 120 soldiers, including 43 females, represent a broad swathe of
the Israeli demographic mosaic. They come from cities, towns,
villages, kibbutzim and moshavim. Not all are Jewish. Some have a
Jewish father, but not a Jewish mother. There are two Christian
Arabs, and a Christian with a Filipino mother and an Argentine
father. There are also Beduin and immigrants from South Africa,
Australia, Mexico, USA, Belgium, France, Ukraine, Russia, Ethiopia,
Georgia, Azerbijan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Singapore and Germany. Yael
Boneh, from Zichron Yaakov, is the daughter of Israelis who
immigrated to Australia. Both her parents served in the IDF and she
grew up with the idea that she would one day come to Israel to do the
same. She believes that Jews from all over the world should come to
Israel to do some form of national service for at least a year and
There were also several haredi (ultra-Orthodox) soldiers amongst the
120 outstanding soldiers including David Shuraki from Ashdod who is
one of eight siblings and whose father is an engineer with Israel
Aircraft Industries; Benzi Glickerman, who is one of nine siblings
including an identical twin who serves in a paratroop reserve
unit;and Shneur Muzikant, who lives in Jerusalem, but was raised in
Kfar Chabad. At age 25, he is the oldest of the 120 soldiers and
studied at various yeshivot in Israel and the United States before
joining the IDF. He is married with a baby son.
Aside from that there were tank driver Idan Reuveni who served in the
same unit as Gilad Schalit; and Tomer Efron the son of pop singer Si
Heiman and grandson of composer Nahum Heiman. Most of Efron´s friends
refused to join the IDF, but his priorities were different.
Not all the 120 outstanding soldiers showed leadership ability or
were great achievers from early childhood onwards. Yaacov Hai Weizman
was a juvenile delinquent, who went through seven schools before
completing high school. He was known for violence and incitement and
had even stabbed someone. The police had opened several files on him.
Because of this the IDF refused to accept him but Weizman had his
heart set on becoming a combat soldier, and kept showing up at the
recruitment office for two and a half years before the IDF finally
relented and allowed him to embark on a preparatory course in which
he excelled. This was basically the turning point in his life. Out of
62 soldiers who applied at the time for combat service, he was one of
12 who were accepted and the only one from his battalion. He
continued to excel and is now keen to sign up for the permanent army.
Natalie Levy of Jerusalem was born with CP, Avraham Apelcar of Haifa
got CP as the result of an accident which caused lack of oxygen to
the brain and Aviad Ben David from Kiryat Akron suffered a severe
head injury when he was involved in a traffic accident at age 9.
Doctors thought he would never recover. All three were exempted from
army service, but they desperately wanted to served and each used
every avenue at his or her disposal to become accepted as IDF
volunteers, proving in the final analysis that even people who for
whatever reason are not mainstream, can make a valuable contribution
to the army and the nation.
As for the shadow of tragedy, Col. Guy of the Israel Air Force who
was one of the pilots in the IAF´s tribute to fallen comrades on
Remembrance Day as well as one of the pilots in the triumphant fly
past on Independence Day, is the son of a pilot who has been Missing
in Action since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Col. Guy was a 15 year old
high school student when his father went to war and never returned.
His fate and his whereabouts remain unknown, so there is no closure
for the family.
Prior to the ceremony Peres and Gantz reviewed an honor guard of the
outstanding soldiers, who were musically lauded by the IDF orchestra.
The two groups were separated from each other only by a red carpet.
As Peres and Gantz walked past the soldiers they stopped to exchange
a few words, shake a hand or pat a shoulder.
Later, Peres, Gantz, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense
Minister Ehud Barak entered the spacious back garden of the
President´s Residence where the awards ceremony took place. They were
applauded but did not receive nearly as lusty a reception as that
given to the soldiers as they marched their way towards the stage.
Decorum simply disintegrated as parents, siblings and grandparents
stood up to take photos and to wave to their loved ones as television
cameramen screamed at them to sit down because they were blocking the
Then came ´Singing Independence´ a custom introduced last year
whereby the president, the prime minister, the defense minister and
the chief of staff each choose a song to be sung by a well known
singer or someone from the IDF entertainment troupe.
The master of ceremonies was actor and comedian Avi Kushnir who
engaged in friendly banter with all four dignitaries.
Peres chose ´Hallelujah,´ Israel´s winning entry in the 1979
Eurovision Song Contest. Peres said it was not just a song, but also
a prayer which offered hope. Kushnir held the microphone to the
president´s mouth and the audience was thrilled to hear him sing
together with four children who appear on the television
program ´Music School.´
Netanyahu chose two songs. His initial request was for ´Od lo Tamu
Playech´ (Your wonders have not yet ceased) better known as ´Artzeinu
Haktantonet´ (Our tiny country), and then he asked for ´Oseh Shalom´
(He who makes peace). Netanyahu sang the latter song first with great
enthusiasm and was joined by the crowd. Singer Rami Kleinstein joined
him in singing the other song and the crowd followed.
Barak, who is a fan of Leah Goldberg asked for her song ´Ha´omnam´
(It´s true) better known as ´At Telchi Basadeh´ (You will walk in the
field), which was sung by Esther Rada.
Gantz said that Netanyahu had swiped his choice so he settled for a
similar theme with ´Anachnu lo Tzrichim´ (We donít need) which in its
own way tells the story of Israel. The singer was pop star Roni
Dalumi, who appeared in army uniform. Unlike many entertainers,
Dalumi was happy to serve in the IDF, and will complete her two year
period of service in two weeks time.
In his address not just to the nation but to the world via Facebook
and a number of television and radio outlets, Peres spoke of his and
the nation´s pride in the soldiers.
"You are the outstanding soldiers of an outstanding army," he said,
telling them that they could spread their wings much further than
their predecessors and could do so with greater speed, determination
and strength than all the generations before them.
This current generation of outstanding soldiers would face the
challenge of new, broader and deeper horizons on land, in the air and
on the sea, said Peres, adding "You will rule the technology of the
21st century." Peres who was one of the chief architects of the IDF,
recalled knowing all the previous generations of outstanding
soldiers, and said that this generation is confronting a world that
has no technological limits. In this new situation he said, it was up
to the outstanding soldiers to vanquish the enemy, to prevent war, to
emerge victorious from conflict and to strengthen the security of the
State of Israel.
The IDF had often fought against what seemed to be insurmountable
odds, said Peres, and yet had overcome them due to the quality of its
Harking back to the beginnings of the state, Peres cited the prime
example of the few emerging victorious from battling against the
many, when 650,000 Jews armed only with rifles, machine guns and
mortars defeated 40 million Arabs who had tanks, canons and planes.
What the IDF accomplished at that time said Peres was totally
inconceivable in relation to the resources that it had at its
Bearing this in mind, Peres warned those who threaten Israel
today: "Don´t make the same mistakes as you did the past. You
threaten us out of a desire to conquer, and we defend ourselves out
of a desire for peace." The wars which Israel did not initiate, but
in which she was engaged, resulted in unanticipated achievements,
said Peres. Many people were mistaken in their assessments of Israel,
"Israel, with a minute population, a paucity of land, a scarcity of
water, lack of natural resources and isolated from the world was
exceptional in its accomplishments, its defense capability, its
flourishing economy, its scientific level and its democratic
character. It is a strong state which prefers bridges of peace to
fences against hostility.
"The Middle East is seething and brimming with various new threats
which should not be taken lightly, but which also should not inspire
fear," he encouraged.
Commending commanders from the nascent days of the state to the
present time, Peres said that the veterans had bequeathed a legacy of
an army with the highest moral values and standards, turning doubt
into achievement and perils into hopes.
"Israel doesn´t threaten anyone and has no desire to rule another
nation," he said.
Peres also reserved special words of praise for Gantz, who he said
was precious to the nation, just as the nation was precious to him.
Gantz said that the IDF is ready and trained to meet every new threat
Daniella Dolov who spoke on behalf of the outstanding soldiers said
that to be outstanding does not necessarily mean to be excellent, but
to know that one is taking the correct path. None of them would have
been able to get to where they are she said, without the
encouragement and support of their families who were equally entitled
to be described as outstanding. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post
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