Today is Yom Hazikaron Lechalalei Ma'arachot Yisrael -- Israel's National Memorial Day, in which both fallen soldiers and victims of terror are commemorated.
Chances are that if you live in Israel, you know one or more person in each category. At this time of the year, I always think about Dovid Boim, who was 17 when he was shot waiting for a bus outside Bet-El on the way home from school in 1996, and about Ari Weiss, who was killed in the line of duty in Nablus in 2002. I didn't know either of them very well but I knew their families, or members of their families, very well, and my thoughts are actually as much about/with them as they are about/with Dovid and Ari.
Curiously, the one person who I think about most of all is someone I've never met. His name is Steven Kenigsberg and he was a young South African Oleh who was killed three years ago at Kissufim.
As I recall, he was killed on a Sunday. The next day I still hadn't found a subject for my weekly feature in the Jerualem Post and was getting rather desperate -- my deadline was Wednesday morning and it was getting tight. My editor suggested I go to Steven's funeral and shiva and write about him, because as an anglo he was of special interest to the Jerusalem Post readership. I really didn't want to because, I said, he was just 18 -- how on earth could I find 2500 words to write about a random teenager, no matter how he died?
With hindsight, I'm rather shocked I ever thought that, and of-course I was soon reminded that every human being has a unique and interesting story to tell. My editor made me go. I spent a couple of hours talking to Steven's father and when he finished, I lifted my head to discover the entire room crowded around listening to our conversation. Like me, they were mesmerised and touched by Steven's story -- the story of a boy who was just becoming a man and was cut off before his prime. I think I was so moved because for once, a father managed to portray his son as he was*, flaws and all, instead of sticking him in the 'outstanding pupil/leader' model so many fallen soldiers are fitted into-- and this made him so much more real to me; because Steven's determined, idealistic, attractive personality still shone through; and because of the supreme irony and tragedy that he died defending the country which gave him 'a new lease on life.'
His story, which I wrote through tears, will always stay with me. Please read it here and remember Steven.
*Or as the father saw him -- not quite the same thing and, I'm aware, possibly not something everyone would agree upon