Israel, Israeli Army, Israeli life

Extinguished Light

The last time I saw him was at Har Herzl.

We were there, at the military cemetery in Jerusalem, to pay our final respects to a member of an elite fighting unit who had fallen the day before. Shilo was there to pay his respects as well. It was July 2023, and we ran into each other as we were coming into the cemetery, and even under those circumstances, I could not help but smile.

Because Shilo lit up every space that he was in.

And because he was one of my first son’s close friends for the last 10 years.

And because he had recently become my second son’s commander. And he was guiding my second son in the most incredible, intensely beautiful ways at the beginning of his service.

So there we were at the cemetery, and we said, “Shilo! Hey. Great to see you. Well, under the circumstances.” And he lit up the street with his smile.

Today, we met him again at Har Herzl. But this time we were burying him.

Who could have predicted? Who could possibly have known?

And his smile, that glorious smile, was buried with him as more than 1000 of us stood there for two hours listening to speeches about his charity work, his love of family, his friendships, and his army service.

His accomplishments are too numerous to name here, but he was the light to so, so many lives.

And that light has gone out.

Murdered last Saturday, on Simchat Torah, as he fought against terror for hours and saved many in the process.

When we first arrived at the cemetery, we weren’t sure where to go because there were so many funerals happening. The space where Shilo’s funeral was supposed to be was occupied by another funeral and we went to ask one of the soldiers stationed nearby where to go. He pulled out his long, long list of soldiers’ names and locations to direct us. And I couldn’t believe I was standing before a person carrying such a list. We listened to the other funeral, and the agony of these people we didn’t know, while we waited for Shilo’s to begin. And then those mourners left, and we immediately took their place.

In what universe is that normal?

I’ve seen notices in the last few days that burial societies in Israel have been asking people to come, with their own shovels, to help get graves prepared. Because there are just so many to dig, and not enough people to dig them.

I was also struck by the number of injured among us at the funeral. They were all young and came in with broken arms, eye patches, crutches and wheelchairs – and had clearly been in the battle with Shilo, or in other areas of the south in similar circumstances.

And these, may I remind everyone, are only the first days of this terrible, horrific, unimaginable situation. And as I stood there today listening to the glorious words about Shilo from his broken family and friends and wondering how we had possibly found ourselves in the cemetery together again in such a way, I could only think about the weeks ahead. And pray that we will not return to the same spot to bury more of our heroic soldiers, or anyone else, anytime soon.

Thank you for your service and sacrifice Shilo Rochberger. We will remember you and love you in death, as we did in life.

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