Rami Elhanan - "Replacing Pain with Hope"
My personal story begins and ends on the particular day of Yom Kippur:
Yaacov Shefer, my great grandfather, was born in Bukovina in the mid 19th century. He married Hana Gott and they had ten sons and daughters. Their eldest immigrated to England, two of his daughters immigrated to the US and their fifth son died of a disease in his youth. The six other children remained with their parents.
My grandfather, Raphael Shefer, the youngest of the children, was born in 1894. During WWI he served as a corporal in the Austro-Hungarian emperor’s cavalry and was captured by the enemy. When the war ended in 1918, Grandfather returned from Italy to his parents’ home. Upon his arrival, after a year on the road, he found that that same week four of his brothers returned who also served in the war on different fronts.
The small home of Yaacov and Hana Shefer wasn’t big enough to contain all the family members who were adults by this time. Grandfather told me that the anti-Semitism he encountered in the army and in captivity motivated him to immigrate to Israel. He made his dream come true and arrived at Jaffa port on May 1, 1921, the day the riots began in which author Haim Brenner was killed. My grandfather’s older brother, Yechiel, immigrated with the third immigration wave and both dried swamps and paved roads. They saved their modest wages until they had enough to send to one of their brothers and help him pay for his immigration to Israel. Thus, with a joint effort, they effectuated the immigration of sibling after sibling and their parents as well. Only three brothers remained behind to welcome Hitler and his assassins.
In 1946, Grandfather’s nephew Shimshon Shefer arrived in Tel Aviv. His parents were killed in the Holocaust and he barely survived the labor and extermination camps. There is not enough time or space to convey the story of the emotional reunion of 18 year old Shimshon with his grandfather Yaacov. They never knew one another. Grandfather Raphael took his nephew into his home in Tel Aviv and helped rehabilitate his life. During the War of Independence Shimshon enlisted and was a machine gunner in Givati. On the night of June 3, 1948, Shimshon and his regiment buddies set out for Operation Pleshet – a raid on Ashdod. The route took them through the wadi at Ad Halom junction. While making their way towards the destination they were informed over the radio of the first lull in fighting. The operation was canceled and they were on their way back to base when the Egyptians in the pillbox overlooking the wadi heard them and ambushed them. When the Givati soldiers entered the range of fire they were viciously slain. 20 year old Shimshon was killed with all the Givati machine gunners and they are buried in a mass grave at the Kfar Warburg cemetery. My mother, her sister and all of Shimshon’s cousins visit the grave every Memorial Day since he was an ember saved from the fire who had no family.
Before the War of Independence, Paul, Rose and their 3 children immigrated from England. Paul is the son of Marcus, the brother that immigrated from Bukovina to England and he is my mother’s cousin. In Israel, their son David was born. During his military service, as an officer in the paratrooper corps, David’s hearing was impaired and he was exempt from reserve combat duty. However, when the Yom Kippur War broke out he joined his unit and was killed on October 16, 1973 when his halftrack was hit during the attack on the Lexicon-Tirtur crossroads near the Chinese Farm. David, the great grandson of Yaacov Shefer, was 25 when he was killed, he was a married man, a jurist. On Memorial Days our large family splits up – some go to Kfar Warburg and some to the military cemetery on Mount Herzl.
Nine years went by until the following tragedies occurred. Two days before the Lebanon War on June 4, 1982, Uri Bilenski, a 20 year old soldier from Ashkelon was killed on the Lebanese border. Uri was a friend of my brother, Aziz. Despite the age difference they shared a very close bond and Uri spent hours at my brother’s house every week. I accompanied Uri on his final path; my brother was crushed. After Uri’s funeral we parted ways. The next morning, one of my brother’s friends came to our house. He said that he went to visit Aziz and he was dead. A brain aneurysm, that was the doctors’ verdict, but I know that my brother died of sorrow over Uri’s death. Is my brother, Aziz, the great grandson of Yaacov Shefer, also a victim of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Yitzhak Eran is the son of Yechiel and the grandson of Yaacov Shefer. In July 1982 Gad Eran, son of Yitzhak and Hassia from Beer Sheva, was killed in Lebanon when his jeep struck a landmine on his way to an observation assignment. Gadi was badly burnt, fought for his life for a few days and died on July 10, 1982. Gadi was 31 when he died, married and the father of a young daughter; he was an accomplished geologist and researcher. Another great grandson of Yaacov and Hana that was killed.
I didn’t know Grandma Hana. She died before I was born. I only know Shimshon from my mother’s stories. I was a baby when he was killed. Nor do I remember Grandpa Yaacov, though he lived for three more years after his grandson Shimshon was killed. I knew all the others mentioned in my story very well. The mourning and bereavement were an integral part of our extended family. We talked about the fallen soldiers at encounters on Memorial Day and on holidays and celebrations.
I don’t know if I suppressed the thought or just never imagined the possibility, but I never feared that bereavement would reach my doorstep. Until Tuesday, September 9, 2003, outside Gideonim base across from Jaffa Gate in Tzrifin, when my daughter Yael was murdered, an officer in the communications corps, fifth generation to Yaacov and Hana Shefer.
Many texts reach my desk and as the editor of the forum magazine I read every word very carefully. Most of the material I pass on to print with a degree of identification and empathy. When I read the article by Nurit Shacham in the last magazine (March 2006) which talks about kefel mivtzaim, I instantly said to myself, out loud and with no forethought: “What kefel mivtzaim is she talking about? This is a liquidation sale”. My mother, who was walking along the hallway at the time, stopped and asked: “Who are you talking to? Now you’re talking to yourself?”
“No one, nothing”, I answered and fell silent.