Isn’t memory tricky? As clear as crystal one day, foggy the next. But, certain events have, and will always stand out as if they happened just moments ago.
I had left Israel to begin a new chapter in my life. It was a year and two months later that I got the most terrible phone call of my life.
My two friends, Beno Moshe and Ami Salzman, my best friends with whom I had spent so much time together with, were murdered on June 20th 1992.
They were at their usual place of work, a packing house at the north-east corner of the Gaza Strip, next to the huge propane tanks, in a facility very close to the Nahal Oz crossing in and out of the Strip.
From the mid 1980’s, when they had contracted to package corn for a kibbutz just north of the Gaza Strip, I began my acquaintance with them. I ran the transportation operation with the latest roll-on, roll-off equipment. Bulk corn, fresh from harvest, in; packaged corn on pallets out.
Beno and Ami had engineered the entire operation, from the hydraulic lifts to unload the bulk corn to the conveyors, and to the actual packaging machines.
They supervised the workers, local Palestinians, making sure the operation flowed smoothly. You see, both of them were fluent, and I mean completely fluent, in Arabic. Advertisement
During the First Intifada, December 1987 to September 1993, when Palestinian workers could not enter Israel to work, the packing plant kept on operating. The Palestinian workers who had always worked sorting and packing corn continued to do so.
It was risky, to be sure, to enter and leave the Strip. For Beno, for Ami, and for myself. In the cab of my truck, along with the various CB radios there were also my AK-47, locked and loaded, and my 9mm Beretta.
Although Beno and Ami were also armed with hand guns, they left theirs in their cars, locked. They frowned that I would have the AK-47 slung over my shoulder…it might upset the workers.
As a “graduate” of Golani Brigade’s 13th, a veteran of the Yom Kippur War, I really didn’t care all that much if it might upset the workers. Advertisement
Sometimes it became a real bitch of a challenge to turn the truck and trailer, loaded with pallets for the markets in Israel, to a different exit from the Strip. Burning tires; blocked roads; rocks hurling in the air. Sometimes the challenge was getting into the Strip, and finding the safest entrance to arrive at the packing plant.
Beno used to run. He ran long distances along with a group of his friends, from Ashkelon north along the main highway, 20 and 30 or more kilometers. He asked me to bring him back a pair of top quality running shoes on one of my trips to the US and Canada.
Ami and Beno would invite us, the corn farming team, and their families, to dinners in Ashdod and Tel Aviv. Their generosity had no bounds.
And, they also called me out. To my face. They told me that I was a foolish idealist, donating inherited family funds to improve the conditions of the swimming pool of the kibbutz. “Buy your kids nice bicycles, buy them toys and clothes. Don’t waste the gift you got.”
And so, on June 20th 1992 my ex called me to give me the tragic, terrible news. I let out a tremendous cry, a groan of pain, I had to sit down.
Two Hamas operatives, posing as onion merchants entered the packing facility asking if the facility would pack onions for the local farmers. Once inside they murdered both Ami and Beno, before they could reach their vehicles and their guns.
I often ask myself if I had been there, would I have made a difference. Would I have been able to neutralize the terrorists? After all, armed, trained, a combat veteran and someone deployed countless times as a combat reservist to the Gaza Strip, would there have been a different outcome?
I returned to Israel in 1971. My parents took me, their infant son, and left Israel in 1952. Upon my return I enrolled in an Ulpan to re-learn Hebrew, and I decided to remain, to do military service as a Lone Soldier (חייל בודד) and one day during class the teacher told me that someone had come to visit me.
He was my grandfather’s nephew, and he was very involved with one of the biggest sports organizations in Israel. He needed my help. I have no idea how he found out that I had been a competitive swimmer in Canada, or that I was now in an Ulpan in the south of Israel on a kibbutz just north of the Gaza Strip… A swim coach from Australia had landed in Yakov’s lap and he needed my, with my newly learned Hebrew, to translate for him and take a field trip to Kibbutz Beit Kama, to observe their swim team, and take in some Bedouin hospitality that had been arranged ahead of time.
That was my first encounter with Yakov.
Yakov Springer, my second cousin, invited me to meet his family in Bat Yam, his wife Shoshana and his two children. He wanted me to get involved in the sports organization, and shared his skepticism about life on a socialist collective.
Later, much later, I received photos of Yakov as a young boxer, nose bloodied, looking very much like his uncle, my grandfather, trim, all muscle, all “no nonsense”.
During the Munich Olympics of 1972, while sitting in the pen where cows waiting to be milked were washed prior to milking, the dairy crew had arranged to watch the games on one of the few black and white televisions.
When the news bulletin came on that there had been a terror attack at the Olympic Village, and that members of the Israeli Olympic Team were among the victims, we all held our breath.
Yakov Springer, ז“ל, was among the eleven Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists, Black September.
I was drafted a short time later, to serve as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade.
On my right wrist there are four orange and black wrist bands. There are also seven thin round black bands. The four are for Yakov, and for Beno and for Ami and for Amatzia. Terrorists filled with hatred murdered them and destroyed the lives of their families. Why on earth any human can be so filled with hatred towards another human has always puzzled me.
The seven are for my brothers-in-arms who were killed in action during the Yom Kippur War. In previous BLOGS for this publication I have written about them.
It’s my privilege and my honor to remember them, every day, always, but especially on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s special day to remember those whose lives were taken too soon. To remember them, young people who served and defended עם ישראל and gave their lives to do so.
It’s a very small world.
There is a restaurant in Philadelphia called Zahav. The chef, owner of this restaurant, is a very creative chef, winner of many prizes including the James Beard award for Outstanding Restaurant. On one of my first visits to this restaurant I “let fly” with choice compliments for the wonderful dishes, but in Hebrew. It was not too long that Michael Solomonov, the owner and chef, came out to see who was enjoying his creations so much.
We talked, and as many of us Israelis do, spoke about the military. Turns out that Michael’s brother David Solomonov, was also a Golani Warrior, like myself. David was killed in action on Yom Kippur, the year 2003…also October 6th…thirty years after the Yom Kippur War I fought as a Golani Warrior. David is buried in Kfar Sava, and Kfar Sava is where I was born, some 72 or so years ago.
I promised Michael that I would remember his brother by visiting his grave and saying Kaddish there on my next visit back to Israel.
There are so many things that I can’t, for the life of me, remember. Where did I put this…what did I do with that….what was that actor’s name in that movie I saw a few months ago…and so on and so forth.
Memory is very tricky. Clear as crystal one day, foggy the next. But, certain events have, and will always stand out as if they happened just moments ago.
These memories, especially on Yom HaZikaron, keep them alive, a blessing, their stories to be told so that their stories can live on and perhaps provide comfort to their families, bringing a smile to their faces and to mine, when the tears of grief have subsided.