Wednesday, July 15, 2020 -
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I’ve been thinking a lot about “Mem,” the heroic Lt. Col. who was killed in a top secret intelligence gathering mission in Gaza, whose name is under military gag order, due to the secret nature of the operation.

He was part of an elite special forces unit, and he was so senior with work so dangerous that revealing his identity or photo could risk the safety of his sensitive security work, as well as the safety of his fellow soldiers in the unit.

Bibi said: “I bow my head in sadness at the loss of Lt. Col. Mem, a glorious fighter who fell during an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip.”

These soldiers are subjected to the most complex, life-altering scenarios, emotions and traumas. It pains me to think of what the soldiers who survive must carry around with them.

But this week, there’s the mystery of “Mem.” Who are you, “Mem”? I wondered. You, so devoted to your land and your country, to our Israel and to her security, so much so, that you knew going in how dangerous a mission it was. You knew you were risking your very life and that if one day you should fall, your name would never be known, your heroism never recognized nor lauded.

You knew this, yet you chose it.

This speaks volumes of your nobility and heroism.

Who is your family, Mem? I wondered. They must have shaken in fear of a terrible day like this arriving.

Every time you left, a part of them must have known you might not return.

And this week, for you — heroic Israeli Druze IDF soldier — that devastating day came.

You threw your destiny in with that of the nation of Israel. You elected to sacrifice your life, as a member of a minority, for the nation of Israel; the poignancy of your loss is magnified that much more. It is not lost on us.

At moments such as these, it truly does feel like we are part of one nation, brothers in destiny.

Your village is our village.

Although your name may not be known, your values and your legacy of sacrifice, of profound humility, of responsibility to the community of Israel, is crystal clear to us all.

Like Biblical Ruth, “Mem,” you symbolize a personality who highlighted for the nation of Israel what is truly important.

It is amazing how much gratitude and pride one can have for someone one never actually knew; not only a total stranger, but a person one can’t even put a name to, never mind a mental picture of his visage.

But you know in your bones that they secured the very existence of Israel with their life.

It is amazing how much sorrow you can feel for someone you never met, yet feel so bonded to; someone you know made a choice, which does not mitigate the sorrow one bit.

Mem makes you think of so many other soldiers who choose to endanger themselves, whose secret missions never come to light. They walk among us like regular people. We have no idea.

Each year, there are probably tens, if not hundreds of such intelligence gathering secret operations that the IDF executes, each one made up of the ultimate unsung heroes, and each one we are blissfully unaware of.

Their anonymity is total.

The news of “Mem” sent me back to the monumental loss of another true, modern day hero of Israel, Lt. Col. Emmanuel Moreno, a senior commander of a special forces Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal), actually a childhood playmate of mine. I last saw him at the tender age of 11 (before I moved to America) when he was playfully chasing me around the neighborhood with his sidekick, his dog Blackie. To this day, his photo, too, is under military seal due to the dangerous and exceptionally outstanding nature of his secret military operations. Yet I can still see his 11-year-old face, and especially his eyes, before my eyes.

In his lifetime, he was so authentically humble. He never wore his military uniform while in civilian life, downplaying how senior an officer he was, as military uniforms indicate an officer’s rank with the famous “falafelim,” or insignia. In his community he was known simply as a low key, devout and modest person who engaged in endless acts of kindness. Only in the military was his greatness known.

Posthumously, he has been dubbed a modern day Bar Kochba for his valiant strength as a warrior, which was suffused with incredible faith and a deep sense of mission as a Jewish soldier defending his people. Apparently, his tolerance for risk was legendary. That strength, among many other factors that make up a valiant elite IDF fighter, led him to rise above other outstanding soldiers, becoming the one who penetrated the deepest of terrorist cells. Emmanuel Moreno planned and execute anti-terror missions so daring, sophisticated and complex that they are said to defy the imagination.

He has officially been recognized by the State of Israel as one of its most heroic soldiers in modern day history.

His comrades in arms, be they secular or religious, shower his name with unbridled love and awe.

He was killed young, after completing a successful anti-terror operation. Although his face is anonymous, illegal to publish, his name “Emmanuel Moreno” has become a household name in Israel since his death. People respond to his name with incredible pride, whispering of his greatness, his legend.

They know, we know, he secured Israel’s existence with his very life.

So it is this week again, with “Mem.” I came across the following dialogue, centered on the mystery of “Mem.” It says it all.

Omer Levy relates:

“This morning as I was driving my son to school and we heard on the radio that a soldier called ‘Mem’ was killed, my son responded:

“Abba, who is ‘Mem,’ who was killed in Gaza?

“I don’t know. There are many names that begin with the letter mem.

“But is it someone we know?

“Sweetheart, I have no idea.

“Yossi’s father’s name is Menachem and he is in the army — could it be he?

“I don’t think so. But it’s an IDF soldier, and we all feel pain for his loss.

“Abba, let’s call him malachangelit starts with the letter mem.”

“Yes, malach, it certainly is fitting. ‘Malach.’”

Then the son gets out of the car for school.

Out of the mouth of babes.

Of course, “Mem” indeed stands for Malach, for angel.

Emmanuel Moreno, may his memory be a blessing, and all of the IDF soldiers who are our Mems, our angels.

I can’t help but now picture them all with invisible capes flowing out behind their olive colored military uniforms, a big Mem sewn on.

G-d watch over and protect them all! And may the day come fast, when soldiers will no longer be needed at all. Amen.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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