May 5, 2003
Tonight begins Yom HaZikaron, Israeli memorial day. Bituach Leumi, the Israeli version of Social Security, announced that in the past year two hundred and eighteen Israelis were killed in terror attacks with over five thousand five hundred injured. Amongst those killed were ‘the twelve heroes’, three Kiryat Arba civilians, belonging to the town’s emergency security squad, and nine police, soldiers and officers, including Hebron commander, Colonel Dror Weinberg. Last night I was privileged to attend a very moving, emotional ceremony during which special certificates were presented to all members of the Kiryat Arba and Hebron Emergency squads who participated in that ill-fated Friday night battle. Included in the over thirty people receiving citations were the families of the Kiryat Arba fighters killed that night, as well as two security officers from Hebron, Yoni Bleichbard and Eliyahu Libman, who commanded the forces following the death of Colonel Weinberg.
The program itself incorporated several short speeches and distribution of certificates. The words spoken by Rabbi Dov Lior, Kiryat Arba Mayor Tzvi Katzover, Brigadier General Amos Ben Avraham, commander of forces in Judea, and Yossi Levy, a member of the Kiryat Arba security squad commended the IDF for recognizing the contribution of the emergency security squad, and while also recognizing the selfless dedication of the men involved.
Photographing the event, I had an opportunity to look closely at the people attending, and two distinct images caught my eye. Sitting in the first row on the left side of the hall was the Tzvitman family – Leonid and Faina, Lada and her son Eyal. Grandparents, a five year old, and his mother. One person was missing – Alex – little Eyal’s father, Lada’s husband, Leonid and Faina’s son. Alex was one of those three brave Kiryat Arba residents who lost their lives, killed when a terrorist’s hand grenade exploded next to him, killing him and the two others instantaneously. Alex’s father received the citation, which reads, “to the soldier Alex Tzvitman, of blessed memory, who fell in the battle “Worshipers Way” on the tenth of Kislev 5763, shoulder to shoulder with Israeli soldiers and border police, demonstrating valor during battle, in an attempt to make contact with the enemy, with a commitment to provide security for all the residents in the Hebron region. With gratitude, Amos Ben-Avraham, Brigadier General, Commander, Judea.
The family looked lost, the little boy not understanding why he was sitting there in the audience. He probably also didn’t understand why his father had never come home again, after leaving the house that Friday night. The most wonderful father in the world, his father, simply disappeared.
My wife is a speech therapist in a center for child development in Kiryat Arba. She told me how, periodically, Alex Tzivtman would appear, out of nowhere, with toys and games for the institution’s children. That was the kind of person Alex Tzvitman was.
When the ceremony concluded, as all stood to sing our national anthem, HaTikvah, Alex’s mother stood and wept, not being able to hold back her pent up emotions.
Right behind the Tzivtmans sat the Buanish family, Rivka and her children, the family of Yitzhak Buanish, head of Kiryat Arba security, who also fell in the line of duty. Rivka and one of her younger sons accepted the certificate from the General ben-Avraham. Later, when the other men were introduced, accepting their awards, I couldn’t help but notice that Rivka Buanish almost enthusiastically joined the rest of the audience in clapping and smiling, showing too her appreciation for the work they had done, for their dedication, for their courage. The only difference between her family and the others was, of course, that their fathers and husbands lived through that night. Hers didn’t. What inner strength she must have, to sit there and almost cheeringly applaud those other men, so wishing that her beloved husband was among them.
And I’ll conclude with yet a third story, the story of a man who wasn’t at last night’s ceremony. Not because he fell, and not because he refused to attend.
Last week the Israeli weekly newspaper Makor Rishon called and requested that I photograph Kiryat Arba resident Baruch Desta. Desta, 29 years old, born in Ethiopia, moved to Israel when he was seven. Together with his parents, four other siblings, and 5,000 other Ethiopian Jews, he traveled for two and a half weeks to get to Sudan, where they were met by an Israeli ship which secretly brought them to Eretz Yisrael. Within a year the family lived in Kiryat Arba. A born leader, Desta was later an officer in the IDF and then joined the Israeli police, working as a special investigator. Being a policeman wasn’t enough for Baruch Desta – he joined the Kiryat Arba emergency security squad. On the night of the attack Baruch was injured in both legs, his chest and his head. One of his legs was partially amputated. He suffered from severe infection which threatened his life. But last week, when I visited him in his home, Baruch Desta was able to walk outside to the front lawn without any aid, with any crutches, without my hand. He walked alone.
Tomorrow night, at the official state celebrations marking the commencement of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, Baruch Desta will be one of those select few who will light a traditional torch in Jerusalem, a flame symbolizing the light of the existence of the Jewish people in their homeland. Yesterday, instead of receiving his certificate in Kiryat Arba, Baruch was participating in a dress rehearsal for tomorrow’s festivity. Baruch Desta, representing Hebron and Kiryat Arba, representing those who lived and those who died, representing Jews who trekked on foot for hundreds and even thousands of kilometers to reach Eretz Yisrael, the State of Israel, representing Yitzhak Buanish, Alex Tzivtman and Alex Duchan, Baruch Desta has come a long way from his Ethiopian birthplace. He truly symbolizes what Israel is all about.
With blessings from Hebron,
This is David Wilder