15th Anniversary of IDF Helicopter Disaster
Shuli Mualem, who lost her husband and a father of their two baby girls on that night, writes about the time that has passed.
Two days after the disaster, 73 pictures appeared on the first pages of the newspaper. Amongst the pictures, was that of my own beloved, Mualem. A small name appeared under each picture and within the frame, a face, a smile, a human being. Just like a large mosaic, a huge puzzle, a perfect tapestry of the State of Israel.
Two helicopters and the entire nation of Israel within them: Young and old, people from the city and from the kibbutz, moshav and settlement, new immigrants from Ethiopia, new immigrants from Russia alongside veteran, native Israelis. An earring next to a yarmulke, right next to left, Tom from Neve Shalom beside Shilo from Karnei Shomron. Rosenberg and Feldman near Abukasis and Saban, Vitali and Vladislav alongside Aviv, Assaf and Saguy, Migdal HaEmek and Kfar Yona next to Ramat Hasharon and Tel Aviv, lieutenant colonel and sergeant, the Paratroopers’ Brigade alongside the Armored Corps, Hassan, Kamal and Fadi beside Menahem, Yaron and Avishai.
A large, painful and profound picture – abysmal to the core.
Fifteen Years Later
Fifteen years have lapsed and I am still having trouble finding the words. I am having difficulty not because I am at a loss for words or because I don’t have things to say about you prior to your deaths and about us since then. I am having difficulty because it seems as though the disaster occurred just yesterday and it is sometimes difficult to grasp that 15 years have already passed.
Fifteen years is an essential period of time in an individual life and in that of a nation.
On a national level, we have managed to undergo the IDF pullout from Lebanon – the IDF left the places I heard about from Mualem. When the IDF withdrew from the Beaufort and bombed the outpost, I felt that that was Mualem’s final death.
We underwent the uprooting of Gush Katif and the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead and the never-ending war on terror. Military and civilian cemeteries have widened their rows in order to receive our people’s best: husbands, sons, parents and siblings.
Fifteen years ago in our loving and sheltered home, Noam, our daughter, who attended the “Rina Nursery School,” had parents who were busy contemplating which school she would attend in the first grade. Today, Noam is a young lady who completed her National Service in an organization that treats cancer-ridden children and she is also preparing for the Psychometric Exam.
Do you understand Mualem? Throughout these 15 years, Noam completed all of her schooling and National Service and with all the time that has lapsed, that night is impossible to forget. I remember that Noam awoke at four in the morning, that I covered her with a jacket like precious cargo and took her to my friends’ home. I passed her on with the knowledge that the house she left at that moment would never be the same.
And Nitzan, Nitzan our baby – in the passed 15 years she has become an opinionated girl and an especially gifted pianist who has already begun her Matriculation Exams.
Noam and Nitzan, like all of us, are trying to follow your way of life, my dear Mualem. We are all trying to live substantial lives that will incorporate the inner voice within us, while working toward the betterment of the general public.
Arik Lavi in Didi Manusi’s song sings:
“A soldier goes, a soldier returns, but one is always missing,
And this continuous count must end – so sing.
A song is not only words,
A song is not only sounds,
A song is the beginning
Sing a song of great hope”
The one is so badly missing and the count must end, and nevertheless sing a song of great hope.
Fifteen years later and Mualem, my love, I feel that we live on so many levels. One level is a substantial life, of hope. Everyday we choose to live and to give substance and significance to our lives. We chose to grow from the darkness of your deaths. We chose to move forward and upwards all the time.
Another level is one of pain and yearning that don’t subside. The pain caused by your deaths, by the plans you will never execute, by the missed opportunities, by the great potential concealed within the 73 worlds which tumultuously rose to the heavens that night. The heartache is felt each day you are not with us with your great love for family, friends, army, the land, the country.
Eight months ago my life was re-coated with darkness – I was diagnosed with cancer. I, who am familiar with a few dark places, felt that this time the darkness was thicker, the shock stronger and the learning process I have to extract from it less and less clear to me. Life was conducted on two plains: one was practical – searching, comparing, making a clear-minded decision, the second – pondering, asking, searching within. I called to you for help in pleading for me in G-d’s presence, since you are so close to him, and quickly came to the conclusion that I have no idea.
In the meantime, I have no idea what G-d wants from me. I have no idea what my lesson is in light of this. I have no idea why?
While I was clueless, a clear understanding arose from my faith in the existence of the Creator: “G-d is who gave me cancer and He will also take it from me and until then He will send me the energy to contend with this and in the future to develop and grow from this.”
I received and was enveloped by love from my family and friends. They shared the sadness, pain and fear with me and mainly the great joy that engulfed me with the knowledge that I didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy.
Families of the fallen, a mosaic of 73 pictures accompanies us and holds us accountable. It accompanies us day and night and obligates us to a memory of unification and taking action, to a memory of loving man, nation and land.
Our loved ones are our compass – to know where we came from and therefore where we are headed as individuals, as families as a society and as a nation.
Loved ones who are no longer with us, 15 years after the darkness of that horrible night and the darkness that penetrated our hearts has not subsided since. I know full well that we are walking in your paths and trying to be publicly involved. We are investing in the general public while maintaining our inner compass and mainly trying to sustain the unique light that emanated from you all of you – and with the light and the memories that remain, to create our own lights.
By: Shuli Mualem
IDF Widows and Orphans Organization in Israel (www.idfwo.org) offers support to women and children who have lost their dearest ones while defending Israel. Donations to the organization can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org or (03) 691-8403