I can’t believe it’s been twenty years.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It’s not the day itself I remember, just one vivid scene that forever changed me.
I was in 10th grade. Recess. Suddenly the school sound system was broadcasting the news.
They never did that. Sometimes they played music. Usually it was used just to sound the recess bell. Never the news.
Israeli schools are loud. Israelis in general are loud, boisterous, passionate, excitable… Younger Israelis are generally noisier than grown-ups. Israeli schools, because they are made from concrete and don’t have carpeting or furniture that absorbs sound, can be extremely noisy during recess.
Not this time.
There was dead silence. The moment the news began every student froze on the spot. A silent scattering of statues, everyone was listening intently to the report.
I had moved to Israel the year before. At first, I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t catch the beginning of the news flash.
And then I heard the names.
Name after name after name. Oh, my God. A wave of horror swept over me. When will the list stop? How many names will they read?
Everyone was utterly silent. Listening.
There had been a terrible helicopter crash. Two IDF troop-carrying helicopters collided mid-air, causing them to crash and kill all the soldiers who had been on-board. 73 soldiers died in the blink of an eye.
I was the outsider, looking in on something I couldn’t completely comprehend. I didn’t have a brother, friend or father in the army. Everyone else did.
I was listening to news that was happening to people I did not know. Everyone else was petrified, listening, praying not to hear the name of someone they knew and loved.
No one moved until the list was completed. Near the end of the recitation one girl burst in to tears and ran to the school’s pay-phone (no one had cell phones then, it was 1997). I remember watching her crying in to the phone and not knowing what to do with myself. What could I do?
That was the moment I understood the interconnectivity of Israelis. There is a bond unlike anywhere else in the world. Everyone knows someone who knows someone. If in America there are six degrees of separation, in Israel there are three (at most). Often this is a good thing. At other times, it is painful beyond belief.
In Israel, there is no such thing as someone else’s pain. It always comes back to us, it’s always connected.
This is what it means to be a family.
That moment, 20 years ago, changed my life. In my childhood, in America, I learned the image of the “rugged individual.” I didn’t truly understand the idea of belonging to a Nation. Until that moment I understood with my head but not with my heart.
The idea of “E pluribus unum” became real to me only after living in Israel.
We are the many who have gathered from the four corners of the earth to live our oneness. One family, each member strikingly different from the other but all connected by an unbreakable bond.
This is Israel.
These are the names of the soldiers who died in the 1997 helicopter disaster.
73 families ripped apart. Parents who grew older without their children, watching the friends of their children grow up and create families where they are left with only memories. Siblings missing their brother. Friends missing that special person who understood them so well. Women who had to find other men to love… Each death is not the death of one but the death of a world.
Lt. Shai Abukasis, 22, of Mikhmoret
Sgt. Itai Adler, 19, of Ra'anana
St.-Sgt. Avraham Afner, 21, of Kiryat Tiv'on
St.-Sgt. Idan Alper, 20, of Bat Yam
St.-Sgt. Avner Alter, 20, of Ashdot Ya'akov Ihud
St.-Sgt. Yonatan Amadi, 20, of Ma'ale Adumim
Sgt. 1st Cl. Saguy Arazi, 22, of Kfar Yona
St.-Sgt. Ran Arman, 20, of Ra'anana
St.-Sgt. Emil Azoulai, 20, of Ashkelon
Lt. Alon Babayan, 21, of Givat Ze'ev
St.-Sgt. Rafi Balalti, 20, of Migdal HaEmek
1st Sgt. Hussein Bashir, 28, of Beit Zarzir
St.-Sgt. Nir Ben-Haim, 20, of Yifat
Lt. Kobi Ben-Shem, 20, of Ramat HaSharon
Lt. Saguy Berkovitz, 21, of Alfei Menashe
1st Sgt. Maj. Paul Bivas, 26, of Ashdod
Lt. Dotan Cohen, 21, of Hadera
Maj. Yirmi Cohen, 23, of Rosh Ha'ayin
St.-Sgt. Assaf Dahan, 19, of Jerusalem
Maj. (Res.) Yasys Eden, 44, of Ramat HaSharon
Lt. Gil Eisen, 21, of Ness Ziona
Sgt. Noam Etzioni, 20, of Megadim
Sgt. Menachem Feldman, 20, of Haifa
Sgt. Moleto Gideon, 21, of Lod
Sgt. Avishai Gidron, 19, of Kiryat Motzkin
Sgt. 1st Cl. Tamir Glazer, 24, of Holon
St.-Sgt. Aviv Golan, 24, of Beit Yosef
Sgt. Tomer Goldberg, 19, of Dishon
St.-Sgt. Aviv Gonen, 20, of Petah Tikva
St.-Sgt. Micha Gottlieb, 20, of Tel Aviv
Maj. Ronen Halfon, 35, of Tiberias
Sgt. Alejandro Hoffman, 19, of Misgav Am
Maj. Yisrael Hushni, 34, of Tel Aviv
St.-Sgt. Shahar Kasus, 20, of Alfei Menashe
St.-Sgt. Michael Katz, 20, of Mitzpe Netofa
Sgt. Fadi Kazamel, 19, of Beit Jann
Sgt. Tomer Kedar, 21, of Negba
St.-Sgt. Tom Kita'in, 20, of Neve Shalom
St.-Sgt. Ilan Lanchitski, 20, of Haifa
Lt. Dvir Lanir, 21, of Moledet
Capt. Avishai Levy, 27, of Tel Aviv
St.-Sgt. Shilo Levy, 21, Karnei Shomron
St.-Sgt. Nadav Lishinski, 20, of Sde Avraham
Sgt. 1st Cl. Eitan Maman, 25, of Beersheba
Sgt. 1st Cl. Gal Meisels, 24, of Kiryat Ata
Sgt. Yaakov Melamed, 20, of Petah Tikva
Capt. Dr. Vadim Melnick, 34, of Safed
Sgt. Vladislav Michaelov, 22, Tel Aviv
Sgt. Idan Minker, 20, of Nir Yitzhak
St.-Sgt. Gilad Mishaiker, 20, of Jerusalem
St.-Sgt. Gilad Moshel, 20, of Tel Aviv
Lt.-Col. Moshe Mualem, 31, of Beersheba
St.-Sgt. Haran Eliezer Parnas, 20, Herzliya
Lt. Eren Hai Peretz, 21, of Deganya Alef
Sgt. Vitali Pesahov, 19, of Acre
Cpl. Shlomo Pizuati, 19, of Tiberias
Sgt. Gidon Posner, 22, of Tel Aviv
Capt. Dr. Vitaly Radinsky, 33, of Or Akiva
Sgt. 1st Cl. Kamal Rahal, 27, of Beit Zarzir
Sgt. Shahar Rosenberg, 19, of Ness Ziona
St.-Sgt. Assaf Rotenberg, 20, of Tel Aviv
Sgt. Moshe Saban, 19, of Hod HaSharon
Lt. Nir Schreibman, 20 of Kfar Saba
St.-Sgt. Itamar Shai, 20, of Jerusalem
St.-Sgt. Omer Shalit, 19, of Jerusalem
Sgt. Yiftach Shlapobersky, 20, Hod HaSharon
St.-Sgt. Gil Sharabi, 20, of Rehovot
St.-Sgt. Tsafrir Sharoni, 22, of Netanya
St.-Sgt. Tsafrir Shoval, 22, of Bar'am
Lt. Erez Shtark, 21, of Kiryat Ata
St.-Sgt. Assaf Siboni, 20, Nir Am
Sgt. Yaron Tsofiof, 20, of Tel Aviv
Sgt. Dani Zahavi, 19, of Haifa