Shmuel Eldar (April 9, 1999)
by Naomi Ragen
It was a little over a year ago that I received a phone call from the Air Force
Base in Palmachim. Would I give a lecture for an officers gathering? Mr. Gadol, the
education officer wanted to know.
I was extremely flattered, and not a little confused. Me, lecture to Air Force
pilots and officers? Of course, I told them. It would be a privilege.
And so, after being picked up by an official army vehicle, I found myself in the
middle of a room of Israels finest. Ahuva Eldar, wife of the base commander welcomed
me warmly. A petite, strikingly beautiful woman, mother of four, Ahuva is a teacher in the
Katzir School in Rehovot, where I had lectured a few weeks earlier. It was she who
suggested I be invited.
So, there I stood at the front of the room, a little religious woman in a hat
and long skirt, facing the tall, handsome, taciturn elite of the elite - Israeli
pilots and air force officers. A few knitted skullcaps dotted the room, but mostly, I
thought, I am in the midst of Israels secular, military establishment, that whole
world apart that we religious Jews know so little about. They looked back at me with what
I think was equal confusion. This was to be their guest lecturer? A religious woman with
an American accent?
But somehow, as I spoke, I felt their intense interest in my description of a
world they knew so little about. Perhaps too, hopefully, they sensed my deep love and
appreciation for every single one of them.
When I had finished, the base commander, Shmuel Eldar, handed me a gift, a bit
of ancient pottery found on the base, encased in glass. And since it was also
Mothers Day, the base commander had arranged for lovely bouquets for all the women:
officers, pilots' wives and girlfriends. He handed a bunch to me. "Your husband
is in anti-aircraft, is he? " he said with that wide, infectious smile that lit up
the room. "You let me know if he gives you any trouble. The next time he does reserve
duty, Ill take care of him for you."
A few days later, I flew to the States. When I returned, I learned that Shmuel
Eldar z'l had been killed together with a rookie pilot during a routine
training mission, when the helicopter he flew better than anyone plunged into the sea.
I went to pay Ahuva Eldar a shiv'a call. When I walked through door of
the modest house on the base, I found among the mourners a woman with her head covered
sitting next to a man with a knitted skullcap. Ahuva introduced them as Sara and Mordechai
Adler. They were Shmuel Eldars parents.
On March 10, 1999, a memorial service was held in Palmachim in memory of its
base commander. The Chief of Staff was there, along with President Weizman, in a room
packed with the elite of the elite of Israels military establishment, gathered to
give honor to Shmuel Eldar. During the evening, I learned many things about the man his
friends called "Shmulick," who had been so very charming to me, a little
religious woman: that he had worn a kippah all through high school, and had steadfastly
refused a car ride to a friends party Friday night, walking miles instead. That his
parents were survivors who had been interned in Cyprus, founders of a religious-secular
moshav Sitriya. I learned of a family man who adored his beautiful wife and children, and
yet had gotten up in the middle of the night at a moments notice to fly
life-threatening secret missions into enemy territory. A man who loved his soldiers and
was dedicated to their training and welfare. A man who died at the age of 45, sacrificing
all the good years to come, when he could stay home "and prepare sandwiches for the
kids lunches," backpack across Asia with Ahuva and watch the children grow and
marry and give him grandkids
Every single minute of every single day, the lives of all of us who live in
Israel depend upon those taciturn, intelligent men who leave warm beds in the middle of
the night, without a word of complaint, without a moments hesitation, in the
knowledge that it might cost them everything life holds so dear. It is never their voices
that are raised to say: "We are underprivileged. We deserve more. Others are getting
more." No, the Shmuel Eldars of Israel dont know how to do that. They only know
one thing: to give, give, give, and give some more.
Lets remember that, every day that we live in this, our most precious
country, enjoying our freedom, our national identity, our security. Lets remember
that every time we are tempted to say all religious people are parasites. Lets
remember that every time we are tempted to say all secular Israelis are goyim and
sinners. Lets remember Shmuel Eldar z"l, his beautiful widow, Ahuva, his
children, his parents Sara and Mordechai.