The month of June marks 40 years since Israel’s Operation for Peace for Galilee or for most of us in Israel, remembered as the first Lebanon war. The period preceding the war witnessed deep changes in Israel’s political landscape and a kind of transitory period where the Labor party’s political elite that had been in power since the establishment of the State of Israel had lost its political hegemony and loss of power to the Likud party led by Menachem Begin.
Much of the anger expressed during the many demonstrations against the war, the vulgar and personal attacks on Israel’s democratically elected leader, Menachem Begin represented more than anything else, the rage of a deposed elite, albeit democratically, who were unable to accept the will of the people, nor accept defeat at the polls. As the public outcry gained traction and popularity, little attention or sensitivity was given to the soldiers themselves who had to bear the brunt of war on the front lines nor their families who had to bear the loss of their loved ones.
Israel’s defeated political elite simply didn’t care, they empowered the opponents of the war to demonize not only the Likud party and its leader Menachem Begin but sadly also the IDF and foremost the soldiers serving on the front lines endangering their lives.
This was the reality of those serving during the Lebanon War and the extended period after the war when the IDF was entrenched in all of southern Lebanon. It was during this period that I served in Lebanon, at first in the Shouf Mountains overlooking Beirut and then later on at the Eastern front in the Bakke Valley for a total period of two years. I used to joke with friends that compared to the South Bronx where I was brought up, serving in Lebanon was a piece of cake. In reality it was just that, a dark joke to help with the reality of daily roadside bombs, and soldiers that could no longer bear the horrors of war. As an armored divisional mental health officer, my responsibility was to intervene and treat soldiers, at times in the heat of battle who were experiencing trauma, for many from seeing the bodies of their best friends mutilated by shrapnel. The immediacy of the intervention in many cases prevented the emotional damage from becoming permanent.
For these past 40 years, the first Lebanon war is not just a faded memory but a daily reality for the families who lost their loved ones. It was at a military ulpan that I first met and become friends with Jerry Wolf H”yd, brought up in Hollywood, Florida, who made Aliyah the year prior to my arrival in Israel. Jerry was a lone soldier and had been adopted during his military service by the Guy family from Moshav Nir Banim in the south. On June 6th /June 7th , 1982 Jerry was killed in action while serving as a gunner in a tank crew. During the same time frame on June 6th, the oldest child of the Guy family, Shachar Guy H”yd, was also killed in action as a tank officer and commander. Despite them being killed in action within the same time period, notification of their deaths during the war came at an interval of 48 hours.
I have been visiting the Guy family for the past 40 years, never once missing the Memorial Day ceremonials.
Nurit Guy, the mother of Shachar and adopted mother of Jerry, has over the years spoken to hundreds if not thousands of soldiers sharing with them her reality of being a mother of two sons lost during the same war. She is not only inspiring and uplifting, but she is also able to convey how she has processed her own personal bereavement and use that introspection to help other parents deal with their own bereavement. I have sat with Nurit many times talking and listening to her understandings, and can confidently state that for her the month of June or Memorial Day is not a yearly commemoration but a daily event for the past 40 years.
Her own journey of bereavement began as for many with the knock at the door to her home, when the military notifyers arrived to give her the tragic and unbearable news. In her case they came twice within a 48 hour period. That knock at the door is now a memory, but a daily memory that never and will never be erased as long as she lives. At a recent commemoration, the following poem was read to those attending the service for Jerry H”yd and Shachar H”yd
“The families of the fallen have been notified” by Izzy Man
This is the knock on the front door... It's the intercom buzz... It's the bell in tune... / And seemingly, as always. After all, every day someone comes to the brink - each for his own affairs, and at the hour / And it is in neighborhood D... It's in a little house, in the shade of trees... It's in the dwelling, third floor... / And suddenly the ringing is sharp and prickly, and bouncing... And the beating of the heart is thunder - and a moment later silent / And it's in an apartment in a kibbutz... Up the hill, at the end of the village... And in the high house, near the square / And it's the same sound, but at eleven o'clock at night it's different -- shaking... Cold... Alien... / And the ringing is heard again, and now reverberates throughout the house, and the knock brings us to the door / And what invites every day to come and enter, at this moment is - suddenly - an overture of an axe on basalt / and the uniforms that are seen through the viewfinder say it all. Without saying a word...
A message was given to the families. To the family waiting for him to come... Who had already waited for him with the gift for ending his service... / to the family you inherited, who had already paid a terrible price that day frost... / to the family whose father had fallen in a retaliation operation... And the nephew, named after him, was killed in the Golan... / And the cousins who were also imprisoned: a son, the salt of the earth, in a ditch... And a second son, Yaffa described, in the explosive device... /
A message was given to the family of immigrants, who did not yet know the land and its paths - but now lost the youngest son... / to the family whose grandfather perished with all his brothers in the Holocaust, but so hoped that in Eretz Israel the sun would shine... / to the family of a farmer... Or operating in a manufacturing plant... And a senior official, or a nature teacher and a violinist... / Everyone saw around the white angel, and prayed: "No, no more...
Not here... God, don't take our light / Everyone was so worried, but hoped that this weekend... And after the war... And in general - that the child would come back / and that Dad, who went out to reserve duty every year... Who's already seen the bullets of death before his eyes... Who brought friends from the battle... / Will return -- and will no longer walk that path, behind the cypresses... And will not go - all - on the journey after him
A message was given to the families. And usually, no words... Usually, the heart has been afraid of the terrible... / And what remains to be said - and what remains - only the poignant message. The short/ one exactly, when the announcer of the casualties passes the path... Opening the gate... Rings the bell, or knocks on the door... / And then, the sound - in its wake - enters the house, and strikes and resonates. And trembling. And jolting / After all, you don't have to tell Mom anything………
Ron Jager grew up in the South Bronx of New York City, making Aliyah in 1980. Served for 25 years in the IDF as a Mental Health Field Officer in operational units. Prior to retiring was Commander of the Central Psychiatric Clinic for Reserve Solders at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring has been involved in strategic consultancy to NGO's and communities in the Gaza Envelope on resiliency projects to assist first responders and communities. Ron has written numerous articles for outlets in Israel and abroad focusing on Israel and the Jewish world To contact: email@example.com Website: www.ronjager.com