Reuven and Eli, friends who fell in the line of duty

The lives and untimely deaths of two of my comrades-in-arms in the Shaked Commando Unit, two brave soldiers who blazed the trail for knitted kippa-wearers in elite IDF forces.

Former MK Yaakov Katz

OpEds כצלה
פלאש 90

IDF Memorial Day and the celebration of Israel's Independence Day immediately following it, bring back bittersweet memories of two of my friends and classmates in the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh, both of whom served in the elite Shaked Commando Unit and both of whom gave their lives for the glory of Hashem, our Land and our Nation.

The three of us finished high school two years after the Six Day War, the War of Redemption, the war whose results allowed the re-established Land of Israel to blossom in its biblical heartland and brought waves of immigration from all over the world, carried on the crest of an emotional return to the Promised Land.

It was the norm for all the members of my Bnei Akiva age group, once they had finished high school in Kfar Haroeh, to begin to carry out the ideology they had been taught, either through studies at a Yeshiva Gevoha (post high school yeshiva), a hesder yeshiva or through joining a settlement group. In our case, the place we chose for carrying out our ideology was Kibbutz Saad, where we combined army service and settling the land.

Reuven Shporn, Hy"d*, Eli Sagi Hy"d and myself decided that in this age of radical change, under the leadership of the great "revolutionary", Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neriya zt"l, founder of the Bnai Akiva yeshiva network, we would do our part to blaze a trail for Religious Zionist youth and volunteer for the Shaked Commando Force, known to all as a particularly elite IDF unit.

Reuven was the first to volunteer and served as an example for Eli and me. He was rated the outstanding soldier and officer who became a model for the other soldiers in the unit due to his religious and ethical standards of behavior. Eli and I,, who volunteered for the unit after about a year in Yeshivat Hakotel and Merkaz Harav, respectively, tried our best to follow in his footsteps and excel in our military and religious behavior. 

The Shaked Commando Unit of the 1960s and early 1970s was made up mostly of highly capable kibbutzniks and moshavniks who had a clear sense of values. I remember that the commander of the navigation course, Carmeli, was from Kibbutz Kinneret, and would ask me every day: "Katz, are  you still religious?" Another officer whom we called "the Legendary Mishmish," and who hailed from Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev, surprised us after three months in the course when one Friday night he asked the entire group, about 20 strong, to put on hats and then gave the command: "Katz' say Kiddush!"

"Mishmish" (Aryeh Katz) Hy"d was killed in an operation behind enemy lines in the Ein Yahav region. Reuven Hy"d was killed going after terrorists in the village of Beit Lahia when he fell into a 60 foot deep well. Eli Hy"d was killed on the ninth day of the Yom Kippur War when the vehicle he was commanding carrying 13 commando fighters led Sharon's brigade in the surge to the Western bank of the Suez Canal. The vehicle was hit by an artillery shell and all of them, the best of the best, went up to the heavens with him on wings of fire.

While we were in the unit and after we were discharged, other kippa-wearing soldiers joined the unit. Dubi Tal , Eli Bar Hai, Yechezkel Kufeld, Shlomo Weiss, Moti Shklar and others, may they live long lives, are well known figures in Israeli Religious Zionist circles, and Menashe Mizrachi, who suffered a head injury in the battle for the Budapest Outpost, died this year of those wounds. 

Today, thank G-d, the entire IDF and especially the elite fighting units are filled with soldiers, officers and commanders who observe mitzvot and sanctify the Name of G-d. 

And my wife and I were given the zchut (merit) to memorialize and keep the names of Reuven and Eli alive, when we named our first two sons Reuven and Eliad. 

(*Note: Hy"d is an acronym for Hashem Yikom Damo, May G-d avenge his blood.)

Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky