October 10, 2015

Dear Israeli Soldier, Dear Aviah

Note: I first published this post on October 18, 2007.

The cherub face in the photo is yours, Aviah, my beloved cousin and a counter terrorist in the West Bank.

Since 2004, you have served in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) elite Paratroopers Brigade. You passed arduous physical and mental tests to gain admission into this highly trained unit with a history of carrying out special forces-style missions. You have participated in countless operations, among them Israel's unilateral disengagement plan — also called the Disengagement plan or Gaza Pull-Out plan (2005) and the Second Lebanon War (2006). Most of the time, we haven't known your whereabouts or doings, and this is how it must be.

You have worn ceramic bulletproof vests, helmets, night vision goggles, and camouflage face paint (as shown in this photo you gave me on your return from the Second Lebanon War). You have marched for days bearing 60 kilos (132 pounds) and more of combat gear, canteens, backpacks, and injured comrades. You have endured weeks of fighting, intense hunger, fear, frustration, and physical and emotional exhaustion. And, for the rest of your days, the echoes of conflict and war will accompany you.

While your compulsory military service has been my personal grim reminder that freedom is not free, and that the freedoms I enjoy daily I can never take for granted, you are another kind of hero, too.

When doctors diagnosed Ohad with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), you asked the army for leave to be present 24/7 for your youngest brother. So for one month, you were his constant companion, support, assistant, driver, and advocate during initial therapeutic treatments at Hadassah Medical Center. While jobs kept your parents from a round-the-clock presence for Ohad, you stood in for them and for your siblings who are either full-time students or workers.

Last Thursday, when you were honorably discharged from full-time duty (like all Israeli veteran soldiers, you are a reservist until age 50), I telephoned after Havdalah to speak with a sweet, life-affirming, bright young man. I wanted to congratulate and thank him for protecting his family, community, and nation, and for helping to safeguard the dreams, prayers, and labors of peace-seekers everywhere.

Aviah (in blue) with his parents and brother Daniel
in the Havdalah ceremony marking the end of Shabbat

Dear Aviah, I felt my words inadequate and, humbled by your family's signature calm and unassuming courage, I stammered and talked nonsense. So, I am expressing my gratitude (and sadness) more fully by sharing parts of the comment I left on my friend and fellow American Stephanie's blog last spring, when, deeply affected by the Iraq War, she began, "Dear American Soldier."

And though my comment was in response to Stephanie's post-letter, I was thinking of you, Aviah, and I was raising you up when I wrote —
I often speak with my beloved Israeli cousin, 20-year-old paratrooper Aviah, and I ask him endlessly your question, I wonder how you feel when you hear fellow[s…] criticize […] war and your role in it. . . .

When I spot soldiers in USA uniform at airports . . . I ask questions — name, family, home, dreams, and responses to criticism by fellow citizens (and others) on the war they are fighting. It is easy for me to speak with them because . . . I almost automatically see all nations' soldiers as somebody’s son, husband, father, cousin, friend, classmate, neighbor, or ally.

And I have come to see most soldiers as children serving for many reasons and almost always at the behest of old men. And I always weep inside, often out loud, and like you, feel a lump in my throat and an almost paralyzing sadness.

May we pursue dialog instead of war and teach compassion in place of hatred. Always. All ways.

Update | October 10, 2013  Last summer, Aviah graduated from the Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, with a bachelor's degree in economics and accounting. He is working as a security guard to support his young family while preparing for comprehensive exams to become a certified public accountant. An internship with a prestigious global firm awaits him following successful outcomes. Stay tuned.

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Anonymous said...

I loved your post on your wonderful Aviah. He is clearly a very caring, strong young man who has already contributed to much to so many. What you express about loving our young soldiers while hating war and working for peace is well done. It is a painful story.

littlepurplecow said...

Such a beautiful post.

Words of gratitude are so important. How easy it is to go about our day-to-day life enjoying the freedoms we've come to take for granted. Our military men and women (and their families) deserve more thanks and respect than we can give.

Danny said...

Wow, what a deeply moving, beautifully written post. Your cousin Aviah sounds like an amazing guy. I wish soldiers from all countries had his caring and compassion for others. I'm sure many of them do, but I also grow weary at the idea so often promoted in this country that to criticize our government's actions abroad is to somehow condemn these young men and women who are serving in the military. It's not, and I have nothing but respect for people like Aviah.

Tamar Orvell said...

Dear Anonymous, Littlepurplecow, and Danny — For sharing your highest esteem for Aviah and for all caring, compassionate service men and women and their families, todah (thank you)!

I just returned from my Atlanta local Whole Foods store where, in the parking lot, I spied a bumper sticker that I never would have bothered to read . . . had I neither encountered Stephanie's blog post-letter, Dear American Soldier, nor witnessed the blessing that is Aviah. And so I memorized the bumper sticker: If You Enjoy Your Freedom...Thank a Vet.

Madeline said...

Thanks for sharing your cousin with us so beautifully.

Kamer said...

[Note from Tamar: I received this comment as an email message.]

Don't know how to become a blog-commenter, but I read your post on Aviah and wanted you to know how beautiful and thoughtful I found it.

tamarika said...

What an amazing post. What an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing it and reminding us about the pain of freedom from every angle. Your post reminds me of a play I saw recently that moved me deeply. At the end of it I sat and wept for a long while before leaving.

Anonymous said...

Your post on cousin Avia is INFINITELY moving, beautiful. And what an AMAZING young man he so clearly is: rare, Tami, really, really rare is such a person! Almost unbelievable: for Americans, totally outside the bounds of anyone they could ever possibly know. His parents, your cousins, must be unique people to have raised such a son! We, here, do not EVER meet, know such people... We just don't. — Johanna

Anonymous said...

I love the post, gorgeous, brought tears to my eyes, you have such a gift.