graduation, gratitude, heroes, high school, Israel, Israel at war

Gratitude for Graduation

On October 6, 2023 70 students from my son’s high school set out together to Sderot. Every year on Simchat Torah they go to another location to sing and dance with the residents and to bring happiness to the area. For the last few years, they’ve been in various communities in Jerusalem, but they decided this year to return to Sderot, to a community that had been so hard hit by rockets and that probably needed uplifting.

On Simchat Torah evening, they danced and sang with many congregations and they met up with an alumnus from their school, Shilo Cohen. Shilo was so happy to have them in the community and to show them around his neighborhood.

On the morning of October 7th, at 6:29am we all know what happened. My son, and his entire senior class, along with many others from their school, sat in a cramped bomb shelter fit for 15 as the bombs rained down on Sderot, as the police station was overrun by terrorists a couple of blocks away, as gunfights erupted in the streets for hours and hours and hours.

Only last week, when Shilo’s family dedicated a Sefer Torah in his memory and all of the boys went to the celebration, did we learn a few more details. Shilo, that fateful morning, had gone back and forth about whether to go to the boys and try to protect them or whether to go towards the fighting in Be’eri. He told his parents that he was sure that the boys would be able to take care of themselves and that they would be fine; he chose to head towards Kibbutz Be’eri, where he was murdered.

The boys, these 14-18 year old boys, survived. They remained in the bomb shelter in Sderot until sometime on Sunday, with very little food or water and a cramped space with gunshots firing all around them through the night. The soldiers who were sent to protect them would go out to engage the evil terrorists just outside the building and return. The house right next to where they were was destroyed by a direct hit from a rocket.  Finally, on Sunday afternoon, the army told them they should take as many kids in each car as they could and go north, fast. With bombs still raining down, many of which they narrowly missed as they headed north, our son finally walked in the door in the late afternoon on Sunday.

It has taken months to try to unpack what happened to them that day, and what could have happened. And what happened to those they danced and sang with on Simchat Torah evening, those who were murdered the next morning, whose homes were burned to the ground, who were kidnapped and on and on.

As we received pictures last week from the Torah dedication for Shilo and saw our boys joyfully dancing and singing with the Torah, the parents on our WhatsApp group all had the same reaction. We hoped that the Torah dedication could serve as a bit of closure for our boys; and that Shilo’s parents could gain some peace watching these boys dancing in memory of their son, these boys who were some of the last to see and dance with Shilo.

Torah dedication in Sderot in memory of Shilo Cohen. June 2024.

These boys graduate high school tonight. And I don’t think I can possibly put into words what these four years have included. From starting high school during the height of the COVID-19 scare and being educated from home that first year and a half, to enduring war for the last 8 months, this is not a normal graduating class.

This is a group of young men who have seen and heard and experienced far, far more fear, pain and sorrow than we hope most people ever experience in their lifetimes. And yet, when you speak to them, they talk about the amazing experiences they had together; the hikes and trips they took; the bonds they formed.

They look ahead to the learning programs they have enrolled in for next year; and to the army service that is not far beyond that. The army service where they will all, every single one of them, give everything that they have for the country.

These are the children of our future; the children upon whom Israel will continue to function, grow and thrive. They have been through the fire of hell and have come out the other side. And I have the utmost confidence in the incredible maturity, dedication, Zionist ideals and drive these beautiful young men possess.

As they graduate tonight, there will probably not be a dry eye at the ceremony. But unlike most graduation ceremonies where those tears are of joy, accomplishment, and the rush of time, our tears, in addition to these reasons, will be of gratitude and relief for life. For the gift we were given on October 7-8 that they survived. I don’t say that lightly or dramatically. They will be tears of reaching this milestone and having the opportunity to see our son and his friends persevere and thrive. And reach this point.

And when I dry those tears, tears representing where they have been and what they have seen, I will shed tears of hope for the future. The future, my dear, beautiful boy, that we pray will be full of promise and joy, smiles and laughter, learning and growth, family and devotion to country, travel and exploration.

Please Gd, may you be guided on the right path for yourself and grow into the incredible man we already see you becoming. May graduation close this chapter, bring these experiences full circle, and enable you to take all of the good that you’ve received these four years and use it for a blossoming, beautiful next stage.

3 thoughts on “Gratitude for Graduation

  1. I share your tears of promise for a better future for Eliav and his classmates.
    Can’t imagine the pain, fear, concern which you experienced on October 27th.
    Eliav and the students who had to learn at home during COVID, then face this
    horrible war in Israel, have endured things which no one of any age should
    have to face. Mazel Tov on his graduation.

  2. My boy graduated this year too.
    In selecting his choices for service next year, if we had been certain he’d prefer a quiet, information based service, he surprised us by selecting a combat unit.

    May they all return safely to build the next chapter in our collective story.

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