Sad, Brave Final Hours of Religious IAF Navigator

Tamar Ariel, who delighted all with her strength and modesty, is laid to rest. A survivor recounts her courage, even as strength ebbed.

Tova Dvorin,

Captain Tamar Ariel z"l
Captain Tamar Ariel z"l
IAF photo

The funeral of Israel's first religious female IAF navigator, Lt. Tamar Ariel z"l, will be held in the cemetery in her home community of Masuot Yitzhak on Tuesday. 

New details about Ariel's death during the avalanche earlier this month that ravaged Nepal's Thorong La mountain pass were revealed to Galei Yisrael radio Monday.

A survivor, Eitan Idan, revealed to the radio that Tamar had been hurt along the hike, and that he and two friends had been tasked with helping her down the mountain during the storm. Only Idan survived. 

"It really took a lot of strength and it was very difficult for her," Idan said. "I helped her a little, but mostly Nadav [Shoham, also killed - ed.] and Shani [another hiker - ed.] did, encouraging her to go as fast as possible to the safe point."

"But it was really difficult, and she fought, the entire time, to continue walking - much more than any other person would have," he continued. "It just showed me how strong she was." 

Despite this, Tamar just fell into the snow, he said - and none of them were able to pick her up and continue. A difficult decision had to be made: leave her and survive - or stay, and have the entire group die in the mountain pass. 

They made the decision in the heart of the storm. 

"Nadav and I understood that we were running out of strength," he recounted. "We were able to take a step or two, but no more than that. From the outset we knew that it may be one last chance - we're talking about hours of walking here - and she was falling every time we let her go." 

She fell into the drift. The group left her. 

"We were exhausted," he said. "We knew we couldn't really continue. I made a decision and said to Nadav: 'let's just keep going - we'll leave her here and keep going. Even if we took her, we would never catch up, we'll just be lost in this storm.'"

"It was an impossible situation." he added.

Nadav remained silent at the decision, Idan recounted. He was not pleased.

"The man would never leave someone behind," he said, "but as soon as I said it, he was quiet, and he probably realized that there was no choice. We barely had any strength for us to move ourselves."

After half an hour, Idan said he also encouraged Nadav and Shani to leave him in the drift, as well. 

"At that I just said to Nadav and Shani: 'I can't go on. Leave me here and just keep going - I don't want to hold the group back. You will die here." 

Idan somehow survived the night, and when rescue crews found him in the morning, he thought everyone else had, as well.

But the crews soon informed him that Nadav had frozen to death. "Suddenly, you find out your best friend is dead," he said. 

Idan concluded that, despite the grave implications of his decision, there is nothing he could have done. 

"There is no such thing as black and white here," he said. "There is no right and wrong, and there is no right decision or wrong decision: it was just an instinct in the moment. The decision that was obvious to me was that if we had all stayed, we'd all be dead." 

A nation in mourning

Before she is laid to rest later Tuesday, the nation has gathered to remember Ariel, and noted her modesty and courage to the Israeli press and public. 

Ariel, 25, was the third of six children in her family, Yediot Aharonot notes. The daily had conducted an in-depth interview with her upon her graduation from her IAF course in 2012. 

Ariel, who was the daughter of a longtime moshav resident and an immigrant from Puerto Rico who made Aliyah out of Zionist ideals, was raised in religious settings her entire life. 

She noted at the time to the daily that an officer's course "had never been her dream" but that, after two years of National Service - serving as a leader in Bnei Akiva - she simply felt she wanted to dedicate her all to the State of Israel, even if her religious beliefs set her apart. 

"After two years of national service, it was a surprise to our family when she said she did not contribute enough to the State, and decided to join the Army," Ronen Shoval, the founder of rights group Im Tirzu and Ariel's cousin, revealed on Facebook overnight Monday/Tuesday. "But if Tamar wanted it, she would take it through to the end, and she went to the Pilots' Course."

"As we stood in the crowd at the end of her course, our hearts were bursting with pride," Shoval recounted. "Our Tamari, from a tiny moshav in the South, had finally reached the sky." 

At the ceremony, Tamar spoke about who she was and the novelty of being the first religious IAF navigator.

"I did not come to the IAF as a flag-carrier for Zionism, or for religious women in general," she stated at the time. "It just happened naturally."

"During training camp and flight school, my wearing a uniform skirt instead of pants seemed strange at first. Some approached me with interest, with curiosity," she recounted.

"They asked me about saying prayers, about shmirat negia [the practice of not touching men outside of immediate family - ed.], about modesty, about keeping Shabbat," she continued. "I kept everything."

"I even laughed about the benefits of wearing a skirt, I didn't have to always keep rubber bands on hand to tuck my pants into my shoes [like the other officers]," she laughed. 

"But in the end, on base, in the same work uniform as everyone else, I fit in," she added. 

Shoval noted Monday that her modest interview stood out, and showed Ariel's true character. 

"At the end of the course, the media chased her," Shoval added. "Tamar, as usual, was modest. Tamar is so special not because she was good at everything she did, but because she was modest in all ways and went out in the world with good values and in the pursuit of truth." 

"From an early age, she was always special: a quiet girl with golden hair who grew up to be a God-fearing woman who wanted to reach the highest heavens," he continued. "May her memory be a blessing." 


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