Bonding with Israel’s fallen heroes
Like most of my friends, I came to Israel on an organized summer program. For a number of reasons, I switched gears halfway through and became an intern at OneFamily, Israel's leading national organization solely dedicated to the rehabilitation of victims of terror attacks and their families. I knew that OneFamily did important work, but I could never have imagined how my time there would change my life.
Operation Protective Edge began immediately after I slipped into my internship role, and my days were filled with shiva calls, visits to injured soldiers, and following the OneFamily staffers from one location to the next to assist in whatever way I could. As the IDF offensive intensified, and the casualties began to mount, I took on the project of researching and developing profiles for the fallen soldiers.
As I sat there, hour after hour, piecing together the lives of each soldier and reliving the sacrifices they made for the people of Israel, I became invested in the project in a way I never had before. I was developing a personal connection with each hero. I began to feel as if I knew them all.
For most of the soldiers, the amount of information available was overwhelming. I became intimately familiar with their families and friends, the highlights of their army experiences, key moments in their childhoods, and the details of their untimely deaths. I had too much information, and it became increasingly difficult for me to decide which information to choose to best summarize the lives of these fallen heroes.
But how can you accurately convey a person’s accomplishments, hopes and dreams in a couple of paragraphs? And who was I to be making such decisions?
On the flipside, there were several soldiers for whom I couldn’t find much information at all. I scrambled trying to find something, anything, just to fill up their pages. Why should these soldiers have an inappropriate tribute simply because there was less information about them on the internet? I felt a strong connection to them and was determined to make it right, turning over every stone to make absolutely sure that they received the respectful send off they deserved.
I believe it was the soldiers’ ages that helped me connect with them so quickly and so deeply. At the age of 16, I am halfway through high school and have not yet decided which college I want to attend, much less what career I want to pursue. I have not yet started dating, and my bucket list remains untouched. In essence, I haven’t really begun my life as an adult.
When I turn 18 and gain legal independence, I will need to chart my path and begin making some important life decisions. In Israel, young men and women take on adulthood by risking their lives for their country. In many case, they even give their lives for their country.
As I drafted 38 profiles for two 18 year olds, five 19 year olds, seventeen 20 year olds, and fourteen 21 year olds who had given their lives to protect the land of Israel and its people, a new reality came into focus for me.
Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, 66 IDF soldiers have fallen in Gaza and countless more have been injured and traumatized for the rest of their lives. All of these soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice, and they were only slightly older than me.
When I visited the military cemeteries and saw their names on newly dug graves, I felt bereft. These were names that I came to know. I felt like I was mourning close friends.
I came to realize that, in Israel, each death is national a tragedy. It’s not just the parents, siblings, friends, and next of kin that mourn each loss. The whole nation cries.
As I reflect on my internship experience, I have to admit that this summer is definitely not what I expected. Instead of hiking with my friends, I ended up spending most of my time aiding victims of terror and memorializing war heroes.
Following my internship at OneFamily, I now appreciate Israel in a very different way. I finally understand the importance of Israel’s constant fight for survival, and how crucial it is to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the State of Israel and support their families.
I won’t soon forget the details of those 38 lives that I connected with this summer. I will keep those heroes alive in my heart always.
Asher Sebban is a resident of Los Angeles, CA and a junior in high school. He spent the summer interning at OneFamily (www.onefamilytogether.org), OneFamily is Israel's leading national organization rebuilding, rehabilitation, and reintegrating the lives of Israel’s injured and bereaved victims of terror and war.