‘I’m sick and tired of defending Israel,’ wrote an American relative, annoyed by a wave of criticism over its plans to expand a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. He’s run out of patience with us Israelis who think we’re smarter than everyone else about our country._
I couldn’t find a civil answer. All I could think was: You’re tired of defending Israel? What about the Peretzes?
Said mother Miriam Peretz, a school principal, in a press interview: “In Morocco where I was born, I went around with my head bowed and I had no freedom. Here in Israel I see my boys in uniform and I’m proud to be Jewish.”
And then, 12 years ago, she heard a gentle knock on their door, the sound feared by every Israeli parent.
“Such a quiet knock and in one moment, your entire world is destroyed,” she said.
Uriel, their first born, was dead, killed by timed explosives in south Lebanon. Five years ago, father Eliezer Peretz died of cancer. And then last month, the angel of death came knocking again. Their son, Maj. Eliraz Peretz, was killed in a firefight with terrorists placing explosives on the Gaza border.
And there’s more.
WHEN URIEL was killed, his short M-16 was passed to another officer in his unit, until it became the property of a soldier named Gadi Ezra [picture below] from Bat Yam.
Ezra was the youngest child of Roseline and Soli Ezra, immigrants from Algeria and Egypt whose families had lived in those countries since the Spanish Inquisition.
Gadi was home on leave when, on the eve of Pessah 2002, a terrorist entered the Park Hotel in Netanya, exploded and killed 30 men and women, mostly Holocaust survivors.
In the early morning hours Ezra’s phone rang, summoning him back to the army. He fought in Operation Defensive Shield, transferred to Jenin. There he was assigned a new commander: Eliraz Peretz, Uriel’s younger brother.
The narrow alleys of Jenin where the terrorists were holed up were rigged with explosives, but the IDF decided against air attacks and artillery to minimize civilian casualties. Peretz and Ezra fought together in booby-trapped houses, seeking out terrorists.
Until they were caught in an ambush. Ezra stooped to help a wounded soldier, and took a bullet in his neck.. He couldn’t feel his limbs. “You have to save me,” Ezra called to Peretz, then “Shema Yisrael...” He died in Peretz’s arms.
Peretz was also wounded. When he returned to his fighting unit, he took a new weapon. A short M-16. Only later did he learn, from the strap, that it was Gadi’s, and before that it had belonged to his own brother, Uriel.
SO MANY, so many beloved soldiers have paid with their lives, year after year, decade after decade for our existence as a state, but Gadi Ezra’s name may be familiar to readers. A letter he wrote to his fiancée Galit Meislik before going to battle has often been reprinted and read at ceremonies.
Here’s a shortened, translated version.
“My Dear Galiti, If this letter reaches you, it means that something has happened to me. This morning, we were informed that the mission planned yesterday, with the Almighty’s help, will take place today. My beloved, on one hand I feel that there is nothing more that I want in this world than to be with you – to love you and establish a home and a family with you. But on the other hand, there isn’t anything I want more than to be a part of this military operation and strike those terrorists a blow so strong that they will never again even consider carrying out a terrorist attack.
“Don’t be angry with me, my love, but at moments like this, your feeling for klal Yisrael (the people of Israel) is the feeling that is supposed to guide you – and you relate to this evil as if your private life does not exist.
“To do this, there is a price that we must pay. I am willing to be that price. Soldiers of King David’s army would free their wives from marriage before going into battle. My beautiful one, I love you so much and the only grief of mine is that you will have sorrow and I won’t be the one who will be privileged to make you happy.
“You deserve all the happiness in the world. I will always watch over you from wherever I am and I will see to it that you will meet someone who will make you even happier than I could have made you. Only promise me that you will continue onward and will not allow Sodom to be the victor. I will love you forever, Gadi.”
BY THE time Eliraz Peretz could leave the battlefield to make a condolence call to the Ezra family, the shiva was over. He drove to Bat Yam with his fiancée Shlomit Gilboa. Shlomit spent much of the condolence call with Galit, who was mourning even though she and Gadi hadn’t yet wed. Shlomit asked Galit to take part in her bridal Shabbat before her wedding. Galit tried to beg off – she wasn’t in the mood for parties and certainly not bridal parties, but Shlomit was relentless.
Six weeks later, on the bridal Shabbat, Galit met the Gilboa family except for Shlomit’s brother, Eliezer, who wasn’t home. “Several times on that Shabbat, family members and friends said that I would be ‘perfect for Eliezer,’” Galit told me. “It was awkward, to say the least.”
Galit said Eliraz Peretz, the new groom, “called us and pressured us and simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Three months after they met, Galit married Eliezer Gilboa. They have four sons. Galit recalled, “At the engagement party, Eliraz took me aside. He said he’d finally understood Gadi’s dying demand for him to help him meant that he had to introduce me to Eliezer.”
The Peretzes and the Gilboas were now family, and the Ezras close to family.
Then, last month, Eliraz Peretz joined the too long list of soldiers who had given their lives to protect his civilians.
Yossi Ezra, Gadi’s older brother, has the M-16 now. A biology teacher, he’s also in charge of security in his village. His mother is unhappy about him using it, he told me.
“Our families have become very close,” says Gadi Ezra’s sister, Vivian Elbaum. “We attend each other’s joyous occasions and the sad ones. Happiness and mourning are mixed up together for us, the bereaved families of Israel. We remind each other that we have to go on, because life is stronger than death.”
May all the memories of the fallen be for a blessing. May we be privileged to defend the State of Israel with words, and not to be put to the ultimate test.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
On Sunday night, Memorial Day begins in Israel. I normally write something about this day, a day where a majority of Israelis mourn and remember the lives of those we've lost in wars, terror attacks & missions abroad. However, this time I'll let Barbara Sofer's powerful article in the Jerusalem Post do the 'talking.' If you're interested in reading more about Gadi Ezra and the victims of the Jenin battle in Operation Defensive Shield, Brett Goldberg's 'A Pslam in Jenin' is a must read.