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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Family Trip

Last Friday was extraordinary for me and for some members of my extended family.

Forty-five years after my husband Yigal was killed when his armored vehicle was hit by a Syrian shell, twenty-five of my relatives and I went on a trip tracking his battalion’s path on its way to capturing the Golan Heights in a suicidal battle that lasted two days – the last days of the 1967 Six Day War.

We were three generations of cousins, my niece and nephew and their children, and Yigal’s brother and his wife. Some were too young to recall the tense period that led to the war, or know anything about the war or about my past for that matter, though some cousins knew about Yigal from their parents.

We began the trip in the area where Yigal’s brigade gathered before battle. There, sobbing, his brother told us about Yigal’s bravery: Engulfed in flames, he jumped out of his burning armed vehicle, rolled on the ground to extinguish the fire, then, under fierce shelling, running forward he continued to command his unit until he collapsed. Only his belt was left on his body, its metal buckle melted.

He was taken to the hospital suffering burns over ninety-two percent of his body. There, he asked his doctor not to tell me about his injury because I was three months pregnant (I subsequently miscarried).
Earlier, when treated by the field doctors, he asked them not to tell me about his injury so I wouldn’t be disturbed while studying English. I was not. He must have confused his desire to enroll in the Technion (the Israeli equivalent to MIT), to study engineering, with my "English studies."

Our group then drove to Givat Ha’em (Mother’s Hill), from where his battalion began fighting. It was already there that his vehicle was hit. Rusty, it is still standing there as a memorial.

Someone placed the picture Yigal’s brother brought with him safely on the vehicle’s corner. I had planned to tell my family about Yigal and read from my still unpublished memoir a chapter that tells about the war and about Yigal’s death. All wanted me to speak by the vehicle.

There I told them about the tense days preceding the war, when Israel as a nation feared another holocaust because in his speeches President Nasser of Egypt promised to throw all Israelis to the sea. He had already taken aggressive actions that violated the terms under which Israel withdrew from the Sinai Desert a decade earlier.

I told them about our hope that a war would not break out, and about Yigal’s and my goodbyes. I told them about the knock on my door in the darkness of night. I told them about my trip to the hospital, the way I saw him burnt beyond recognition, and about the sound of his last breaths. I told them what his commander wrote about his leadership qualities and his camaraderie and about incidents in our life together that exhibited those characteristics.

I told them about my aunts and uncles – their parents – who, one-by-one filled my apartment upon hearing of Yigal’s death, and about the appearance of his brother there, having been called from the front, and how we silently hugged. Not a dry eye was left in that apartment. I told them that in the corner grocery store, my neighbors were whispering that the silence emanating from our home was worse than a thousand screams.
There was hardly a dry eye left on Mother’s Hill.

We then continued our journey on the path Yigal’s battalion fought until they conquered the Golan Heights, from where the Syrian had constantly shelled Israeli settlements in the valley beneath them.

We ended the trip with a family picnic, on a spot overlooking the now peaceful valley. A family bonded by its closeness and rich history.

My American family – my husband of forty years, my daughter and her family, were not with me on this trip. But that was fine. My past, that which occurred before they entered my life to my delight, belongs to me. The rest belongs with them.


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  1. Dear Ziva,
    Your factual description is so forceful. I cannot stop thinking about it, about you as a young widow, and about poor Yigal. It was the silence from your apartment-- to your neighbors, it is the lack of emotions in your description -- affecting me.

  2. Thank you Alicia for your comment. I think it was the dignity, too, with which we mourned the loss of Yigal that moved my neighbors.

  3. Hello Ziva,
    What a moving recount. You are a very courageous woman because you have opened your heart to let us know a bit more about your past. Your bravery honors the memory of Yigal, who was a courageous man leading his soldiers in the battle field.
    Thanks for sharing your story!


  4. My heart aches for all that you described and for the suffering your husband and his loved ones experienced. This was an eloquent recount of events so long ago, yet never forgotten. Love, Barbara