IDF Chief of Staff's "Three Mothers" Speech - translated to English

On the eve of Israeli Memorial Day, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi gave a speech titled "Three Mothers" and spoke about three mothers whose children fell in battle - Rachel, Nechama, and a third who has no name but represents countless other grieving mothers.

Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi ,

Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi
Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, families, distinguished guests. The return of the people of Israel to its homeland is an unprecedented event in history; a sort of miracle, even if the present generation takes it for granted what has been achieved here, in the time since the first pioneers set foot on the shores of this land and joined the foundation of the nation, is quite exceptional. This has been a journey of faith, determination, and creativity throughout which generations of defenders have paid a heavy price on all fronts. This journey was not just the exodus from Egypt, rather, it has been an exodus from the world over an entire nation waking up and beginning to walk both young and old fathers, and mothers three of whom I'd like to speak about today.

The first is Rachel, for whom it was not possible to live in her own country, she experienced alienation without a sense of belonging. She succeeded in reaching the promised land but wasn't able to live there, and when her sons were exiled from the land and passed her grave, so it is written: “A cry was heard in Ramah— Wailing, bitter weeping— Rachel weeping for her children”, and yet her cry was heard and the prophet, Jeremiah, promised: “Keep your voice from weeping your eyes from shedding tears; the sons shall return to their borders”.

Most of the history of the Jewish people took place beyond the borders of its country, lacking security, defenseless, persecuted and massacred time and again. The Zionist movement overturned this situation entirely strong leadership during trying times took the initiative, inspired many who later immigrated in waves which came together as a great nation and an independent State of Israel. We are the generation of children who returned to our borders. We're back, this time, for good.

Yet the journey of return has taken a heavy toll. The second mother, Nechama, was also a person of action, she left her home in Ukraine and together with her husband, Joseph, who fled Nazi Austria she immigrated to Israel to start a family and build a country. They changed their last name to "Israeli" and settled in Kibbutz Dovrat filling their home with the values of Zionism. “A nation that rises from the dead needs children”, Nechama said and had five of her own. Her two boys, Effie and Dedi were the very best of friends. Effie became an officer and instructor in the Armored Corps Officers’ course, Dedi followed in his brother’s footsteps and was a cadet in that very course—a course which was never completed.

It came to a halt as the Yom Kippur War broke out and the two brothers were sent to the Sinai Peninsula on the second day of the war, Dedi’s tank was hit by a missile, and despite suffering severe burns he returned to rescue a member of his team and only then was he evacuated for treatment. His brother Effie remained in the battlefield and when his tank was hit he moved to another tank and continued to fight. On the twelfth day as IDF forces were already on the western bank of the Suez Canal Effie was hit again and killed.

The knock on the Israeli family's door the ominous knock became sadly a part of the nation's story; it became a part of the nation's pulse. Many families, too many families, have heard that knock followed by a shrieking pain too great to be contained.

Dear families, you have lost that which is most precious around you, everything continues to develop and to change while your pain does not budge, it deepens its grip and weighs heavily. We try to understand the pain, we insist on reminding ourselves and remembering, learning from the past, and teaching for the future and we see you as part of the defenders of the nation. And as for us, out of a sense of obligation and commitment to the soldiers and their families, we will do everything in our power to send them only on missions deemed worthy; we will improve the IDF’s capabilities first and foremost in order to successfully fulfill its missions, but no less importantly, to protect and defend our soldiers. Tens of thousands of soldiers and commanders, execute countless missions and return home safely thanks to the professionalism and care of their commanders. This care also entails caring for the wounded including making the utmost efforts to bring back the prisoners and those missing in action home to their families and country. The fallen died defending this country and we, their successors, continue to stand guard.

At times, it may seem that the security we enjoy is taken for granted, however, behind every day of security and safety stands an entire army that collects intelligence, keeps watch, stops shootings and infiltrations, raids, strikes, and prevents terror by thwarting intentions of terrorists. Those who are immersed in defense operations and in operational activities do not always see the true impact of their own actions.

Yehuda Amichai aptly wrote: “From a distance, everything looks like a miracle, but up close even a miracle doesn’t appear so, even someone who crossed the Red Sea when it parted only saw the sweaty back of the one in front of him”. The same goes for the soldier who is patrolling the northern border the officer who exposed many enemy targets this week and the pilot returning from a sortie "who only saw the burners of the aircraft in front of him". The State of Israel grows and the soldiers of the IDF envelope it in a sphere of security. They leave their homes each Sunday and take their positions on the frontlines and units. Commanders, who themselves are mothers and fathers leave for their missions, missing their children for days or weeks at a time just to serve as eyes, ears and the fist protecting us all.

The security that Israeli citizens enjoy is attributed to the achievements of all the security agencies and of all the soldiers of the IDF but the first to bear that burden are the warriors in the combat units who spearhead the efforts and carry the weight of the entire country’s security on their shoulders. They should serve as an example of good citizenship, a model for education role models for every family, school, community, and town. Acting as an exemplary organization is an important role for the IDF an army that unifies every part of Israeli society, cultivating unity expressing the common good and standing as a model to aspire to.

IDF soldiers all train together fight together, win together and when a comrade is killed — they bury him or her, together. Independence comes with a heavy price: twenty-three thousand, nine hundred and twenty-eight (23,928) killed; tens of thousands wounded and many who carry the scars in their souls for life. Despite the heavy burns that Effie's brother, Dedi, suffered, his situation began to improve. He lay in a secluded hospital room not knowing the truth about his brother. He had trouble speaking, however, after a few days, when his father Yosef entered his room, Dedi raised his hand and said ‘Dad, I managed to write Effie a letter.’ Yosef, the grieving father was stunned. He kept still for a moment and then said to his son: "There is no one to receive the letter. Efraim is gone." Dedi's heart sank when he heard the news. He stopped fighting for his own life and withered away until he succumbed to his pain and died.

Two mothers mourn their sons’ fate. One had no country yet her children returned from enemy lands, while the other lived in her own country at the cost of the lives of her two sons. There is no greater price than this. And I, with all humbleness would not dare say “Restrain your voice from weeping your eyes from shedding tears” but I find hope in the words of Jeremiah, saying “There is a reward for your labor” indeed there is—and the third mother benefits from it.

I do not know her name, but she represents many mothers, who inhabit this nation. They have raised families and their children fulfill themselves and continue to build the State of Israel. They are secular and religious mothers from villages and cities. Jewish, Druze, Christian and Muslim. They have grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and they all live in their country safely and securely.

Nechama Israeli, the Palmach warrior; the wife of Yosef, who also fought in the Palmach; who lost her two sons; whose grandchildren served in the IDF and many of her great-grandchildren in combat units—is a true symbol of core values and resilience and an example to us all. I salute her and her family; I salute many more families that have received that worst of news: that knock on their doors, two separate times. On behalf of the IDF I salute all of the bereaved families, mothers and fathers as one; widows siblings and children. You all deserve to be honored with deep gratitude. I salute, embrace and support you as strongly as possible. You are all an example of strength and resolve your strength serves as an ongoing testament to the power of our people as a nation especially when that nation focuses on what is truly important. This is the same strength that resounded in the words of Nechama only days after Dedi passed away: “If there are no values to dedicate life to, life itself has no value.” Thus she spoke. May the memory of our fallen boys and girls be a blessing."