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70 Years of LOVE AND

70 Years of LOVE AND LOSS IDF widows and orphans reflect on their grief and how the IDFWO helped them overcome life’s most arduous challenges • BY MAAYAN HOFFMAN As Israel is poised to turn 70, the Jewish people will reflect on how far we’ve come. Today, the Jewish state is a world-renowned hub for innovation – from hi-tech, to medical breakthroughs, to the Iron Dome air defence system – Israel has cemented itself as a start-up nation in a variety of fields. Today, Israel has a powerful, proud and professional army that has never been more capable of defending its citizens and the Jewish Diaspora. Israel’s tourism is booming, with adventurers travelling from all over the world to visit Israel’s holiest sites, to taste its flavoursome food and to experience its colourful culture. However, the Israeli people sacrificed much to get to where they are today. “Every fallen soldier is a whole family that suffers forever,” Vida Keren As such, since the dream of a Jewish state became a reality, there is both celebration and sadness. On Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, the citizens of Israel will flock to the streets in celebration. But as firecrackers explode in colourful delight and bands march through the streets, there will be thousands of families that are still reeling from Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, which takes place the day before. The transition from a day of mourning to a day of celebration can be difficult for those who have paid the heaviest price for the country’s existence: the families of Israel’s fallen heroes. Almost 24,000 men and women have been killed defending the land of Israel, according to reports by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This includes the individuals who lost their lives in the 1948 War of Independence until 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, and any soldiers killed by guerrilla and terrorist attacks before, during and after these wars. “Every fallen soldier is a whole family that suffers forever,” said Vida Keren, 76, who lost her husband, Maj. Shlomo Keren during the first days of the 1967 Six Day War. The IDF Widows and Orphans Organisation (IDFWO), established in 1991, strives to represent the needs of over 8,000 widows and orphans from the IDF to the Israel Police to Prison Service and/or Secret Service. The IDFWO embraces this vulnerable population throughout their lives, providing emotional support, financial aid and social welfare programmes. For its orphans, the IDFWO is there at every life milestone, from when they begin school, to Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations at the Western Wall, and stands by them through their journey into adulthood by providing leadership seminars in Europe, university scholarships and financial grants for weddings, to name just a few initiatives. For its widows, the IDFWO ensures no widow is ever forgotten, at birthdays, during holidays or throughout the year. Programmes for widows include an annual retreat where they can commiserate with other widows and help each other heal. In addition, the IDFWO offers medical grants to combat a number of health issues ranging from dental repairs to cancer treatments. The IDFWO is committed to bereaved families and gives them a voice to tell their stories of those left behind. The following is a window into the lives of four families who lost their loved ones defending the State of Israel. The 6 IDFWO MARCH 2018

vignettes below are reflections of love and loss journeying from the War of Independence, Yom Kippur, Six Day and Second Lebanon wars. Death notice by carrier pigeon Tamar Dahan is 71 years young, and for 69 of those years, she has lived with the pain of losing her father and watching her mother struggle to raise her and her two older brothers. Dahan’s father, Private Berthold Levy, fell during Israel’s War of Independence. He was killed during an ambush near the village of Bashit, near the town of Gedera. “I remember the army delivered the news to my mother with a carrier pigeon,” Dahan recalled. Her mother received the note. She cried, and then a few days later was back to work on the kibbutz. “In those days there was no sympathy, no shiva, no real support. Years later, my mother shared with me how hard her life was,” said Dahan. Dahan was a small girl, so within a short time she had no personal memories of her father. She tried to learn about him from her father’s parents, German immigrants who lived with her on their kibbutz. Her mother and brothers rarely shared stories, even though she knew they missed him terribly. Years later, her middle brother, then eight, became a historian and tour guide, taking visitors to the spot where Tamar Dahan locks arms with her daughter at her wedding. their father was killed. It was only 13 years ago, when Dahan’s first grandchild turned two, that the pain of her loss began to acutely surface. She said, “It had been sitting somewhere, in my subconscious,” and she was told by a psychologist that this was not uncommon. “In those days there was no sympathy, no shiva, no support,” Tamar Dahan She was able to process her tragedy then and connect with the IDFWO, where she met other older orphans like herself. “It helps when people with an equally difficult background share with one another and enjoy events together,” Dahan said, noting that Memorial Day continues to be difficult for her. “I lost something so precious in my father,” said Dahan. “We have a state, and for that I am grateful. But it is a vicious cycle of violence and it really takes a toll on the people.” Remembering a hero Vida Keren’s late husband is a hero. The late Private Berthold Levy with Tamar and her two siblings. Major Shlomo Keren was a combat pilot during the Six Day War. He carried out seven operational missions during the war, destroying 16 enemy planes, including giant bombers. “On the third day of the battles, during an airstrike, his aircraft was shot down,” Keren said. They thought her husband had been kidnapped, but it quickly became apparent that he and his comrades were killed. Keren was left alone to raise the couple’s two daughters; the younger was only three weeks old. “It is so hard and it hurts. It feels like the weight of everything is on you, but you have to get up and just make it work,” said Keren. “It is not easy.” After the victory of the Six Day War, the country was in a state of euphoria, Keren recalled. She said the country treated her and the other widows like queens, taking them on trips and raising them up as heroines in the immediate aftermath of the battles. The women had each other for warm hugs and support, even as they missed their husbands terribly. “Shlomo did not get to hear that we won Jerusalem,” Keren said. “He fought so hard until the end, and I just wish he had known about Jerusalem. I often think, ‘What would Shlomo think about the nation today and what we did with our victory?’” Yet life went on. Keren raised her two daughters in IDFWO MARCH 2018 7