Yom HaZikaron

Yom HaZikaron

I share this story each year, because of the tens of thousands of lives that we remember on Israel’s Memorial Day, this is the story that I know best. Memorial Day is always a difficult and emotional day, but I will confess that it hits a bit different this year, as my oldest child drafted a month ago. May G-d keep our soldiers and citizens safe, and may the bereaved families be comforted today and every day. 


My husband moved to Israel from New Jersey the day after his 18th birthday, in the mid 1990s. He spent a year in the Mechinah program at Hebrew University before officially making aliyah and being drafted into the army.

For 30 months, he served in the Golani Brigade. He had two tours of duty in Gaza, and three in Lebanon, his last as a combat medic.

I met him for the first time on an unusually humid August afternoon. He had been released from the army four days earlier.

We began dating right away.

Two weeks later, we had joined a group of friends for drinks in Jerusalem. It was getting late, and I had to work the next day, so we grabbed a cab together.

As the driver pulled up in front of my entrance, the news was droning on in the background. We had been chatting, not paying attention, and then, all of a sudden, he froze.

He knew immediately.

I, however, was a new olah. My Hebrew was still faltering and I was clueless. “What’s the matter? What’s wrong?”

“Do you have a TV?” he asked, wide eyed and terrified.

I paid the cab driver, confused, while he bound up my stairs, three at a time, and turned on the 11 o’clock news. Again, we caught just the tail end of the story. We saw a body, an Israeli soldier, covered with a tarp, being carried on stretcher.

Only the bottom of his leg, and his black army boot, was visible.

My husband collapsed. His legs folded under him, his head crashed to the cold tile floor. He was sobbing.

“What?! What is it?” I demanded.

“That’s him,” he kept saying, over and over again.


There had been a raid in southern Lebanon — a raid planned by the IDF to root out terrorists who were launching attacks into northern Israel from their hidden vantage points.

A firefight ensued and my husband’s unit (machlaka – a group of 15 or so soldiers) took up their positions on the slope of a rocky hill. The battle continued throughout the day.

It was the dead of summer. Hot. Dry.

The tumbleweed brush in the valley below had been barraged for hours by the sparks from flying bullets.

A slow smoldering eventually erupted into a raging fire, but their unit was ordered to hold their position.

Suddenly the wind picked up and whipped the flames higher, churning up the hill where they held their posts.

The soldiers could not outrun the flames. Even as the orders — “Retreat! Retreat!” — were issued, they fell, engulfed in the inferno.

Four Israeli soldiers, sons and brothers, died on that hill that day. A fifth later succumbed to his wounds.


In Jerusalem, burials take place without a casket. Instead, bodies are wrapped in tallisim, carried on a stretcher, deposited into the ground.

Dust to dust.

Military funerals are different, though. There, the bereaved families cling to each other, held up by the comforting arms of thousands, as their sons pass by in caskets draped in blue and white.

At a Golani funeral, on Har Herzl, those thousands are an undulating wave of brown berets and M16s, crashing into the cedar-lined walkways. The wails echo against the rocky walls.


There had been two medics in my husband’s unit. Frankie was the more experienced. His replacement, Ro’i, had just completed his medic’s training.

Ro’i grew up in Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood and was an avid reader. He would often ask my husband to bring him American novels, so he could practice his English. Ro’i planned to study medicine at Hebrew University.

He died in the fire on August 28, 1997.

My husband survived, by virtue of his release date. Two weeks before the fire.

For a nation, the grief of Yom Ha’Zikaron knows only the boundary of its transition into Yom Ha’Atzmaut. For a mother, a father, a sibling, a friend, the grief is endless.

I pray that their memories may be a blessing and that we may be worthy of their sacrifice.


From Arutz Sheva on August 29, 1997

The four soldiers who died in the fire yesterday after a gun battle with terrorists in southern Lebanon are: Staff-Sgt. Oren Zarif, 21, from Herzliya; St.-Sgt. Oshri Schwartz, 19, from Or Akiva; Sgt. Shimon Yedag, 21, of Sderot; and St.-Sgt. Ro’i Shukrun of Jerusalem. The latter three were buried today.

Six others were hurt, including one critically and two who are listed in serious condition. According to preliminary reports, yesterday afternoon a Golani Brigade unit encountered a band of Amal Shi’ite terrorists, in a thickly vegetated valley on the border of the eastern sector of the security zone.

After the soldiers killed four of the terrorists, IAF battle helicopters began to strafe the area to ensure there were no more Amal gunmen around. A blaze broke out in the area, but the soldiers did not feel themselves endangered until winds began to blow and the fire spread. At that point, they began to run, but several of them could not make it before the flames engulfed them.


  1. stacey goodstein ashtamker says

    Beautifully said you gave me goose bumps. We are all touched by what happens in this country and some of us are personally involved.


  2. Beautiful, powerful writing. I got some of the goosebumps Stacey described. Especially good for explaining to those of us here in chutz l’aretz what Yom Hazikaron is all about.

  3. sharon moseson says

    Very, very moving story Mara…. please give your husband a hug and kiss and tell him it’s from someone very grateful for his service and sacrifices.

  4. Please let your husband know how very grateful we are for his military service. Thank you for writing this post.

  5. I am speechless. Thank you for sharing this personal story and giving us a further dimension through which to focus our grief–and our gratitude.

  6. Beautiful.

  7. Very beautiful Mara…

  8. Barbara says

    Beautiful and so sad too, Mara. I lived in Jerusalem for 16 years. One of my nephews is still in the army… Thank you for writing this.

  9. Thank you, Mara. Just… thank you. I have cried many tears in the past few days. Reading your heartfelt, wonderfully written article brings more tears. Tears of sadness for those lost, their families and friends. Tears for all of us who pray and wish for a peaceful existence for our people and our State.

    • Mara Strom says

      Oh Debbie. I’ve been thinking of you today. <3

      • Thank you, Mara. We just returned from the Yom HaAtzmaut celebration. Avi’s school holds a Torch Ceremony and honors twelve parents and students. Avi was honored for his commitment to Israel and his enlisting in the IDF. It was a wonderful morning.

  10. Thank you for posting this story. May all of the soldiers stay safe as they protect our homeland, Israel.

  11. Michele Shahar says

    Yup. I remember. I was there as a new olah from 1985-1989 (returned to the US for family health reasons). My husband is Israeli and was Givati. Lots of losses. Lots of memories. Lots of emotions. G-d rest and bless the souls of all the fallen. G-d bless all those still alive who fight for our freedom and our lives every day!

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