(Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi delivering his speech, “The Three Mothers”.)
The Three Mothers
Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi
At last year’s official ceremony at the Kotel marking the beginning of Yom HaZikaron, the Ramatkal (Chief of Staff) of the IDF, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, delivered a short speech entitled “The Three Mothers.” Widely celebrated throughout Israel, we are honored to share his powerful speech in abridged English translation.
The journey home of the Jewish people to its land, from all corners of the world, is an unprecedented event in world history. We must remind ourselves that it is a miracle, even though we now take Israel’s existence for granted. But the story of our people and our land is also a story of individuals, young and old, fathers and mothers, and it is about three mothers that I wish to speak today.
The first is Rachel Imeinu, who did not have the chance to live in this land. She arrived at the land, but died shortly afterwards without meriting to live in it. When her children were exiled generations later, and they passed by her grave, קוֹל בְּרָמָה נִשְׁמָע נְהִי בְּכִי תַמְרוּרִים רָחֵל מְבַכָּה עַל בָּנֶיהָ, “A voice was heard in Ramah, a bitter and mournful cry, Rachel, crying for her children” (Yirmiyahu 31:14). Her cry was heard, and the Navi tells of the promise, מִנְעִי קוֹלֵךְ מִבֶּכִי וְעֵינַיִךְ מִדִּמְעָה… וְשָׁבוּ בָנִים לִגְבוּלָם, “Stop your voice from crying, and your eyes from tears… for your sons will return to their land” (Yirmiyahu 31:15–16). Rachel may not have lived in the land, but G-d promised that her children would one day return.
Our people lived the majority of its history outside of our Land, where we were powerless and persecuted. Zionism fundamentally changed this situation; with incredible determination and despite enormous challenges, waves of Jews began to return to Israel, forming a new society and the State of Israel. We are the banim sheshavu ligvulam, the sons of Rachel who have returned to their land. We have returned, to remain here forever. But the journey home has come with an unbearable price, which brings us to the second mother.
Nechama left her home in Ukraine, and together with her husband Yosef who had fled from Nazi Austria, made Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. They changed their family name to Yisraeli, and set up their home in Kibbutz Dovrat, a home filled with Zionism and Jewish values. She had five children, two of them sons – Effi and Dedi, the closest of brothers. Effi became an officer in the IDF, and then a trainer for tank officers. Dedi followed his brother to serve in the tanks, and became Effi’s student in a tank officer course that was never completed. The Yom Kippur War interrupted that course and both brothers were sent to the Sinai Desert.
On the second day of the war, Dedi’s tank was hit by a missile. Despite the fact he had been severely burned all over his body, Dedi returned to the tank to rescue another crew member, and only then was taken to the hospital. His brother Effi remained in the battlefield, and despite the fact that his tank had been hit, he joined another tank and continued fighting. On the 12th day of the war, when the IDF was fighting on the West Bank of the Suez Canal, Effi was struck again and killed. Yosef and Nechama Yisraeli received the dreaded knock on the door – the knock that too many Israeli families have experienced – and were told the news of Effi’s death.
Dedi was still in the hospital, and despite his serious burns, his situation began to improve. He was alone in his room, shielded from the news of Effi’s death. Dedi was so weak he could barely speak, but after a few days, when his father Yosef entered the room, he said, “Abba, I managed to write a letter to Effi.” Yosef, who had only recently become a bereaved father, was silent for a moment, and then he said to Dedi, “There is no-one to send the letter to. Effi is no longer.” Dedi began processing the news, and the pain gradually began to sap all his strength. He sunk into sadness, stopped fighting for his life, and slowly faded away until he too died.
Two mothers, Rachel and Nechama, cried over the fate of their children. One of the mothers, Rachel, was unable to live in the land, but is told her sons will return to live in it. The other mother, Nechama, lived in the land, but for that right paid the unbearable price of her two sons.
I would not dare to say to Nechama מִנְעִי קוֹלֵךְ מִבֶּכִי וְעֵינַיִךְ מִדִּמְעָה, “stop your voice from crying, and your eyes from tears.” But I will rely on the words of the Prophet when I say יֵשׁ שָׂכָר לִפְעֻלָּתֵךְ, “there is reward for your actions.” There is a reward, and it is the third mother who benefits from that reward.
I don’t know her name, but this third mother represents countless mothers who fill this land. These mothers have built families, and they and their children have built Medinat Yisrael. They are religious and secular mothers, from cities and villages, who have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and who are able to live securely in their land because of the sacrifices of the first two mothers.
On behalf of the IDF, I salute all of the bereaved families, all of the mothers and fathers, the widows, siblings and orphans as one. You all deserve to be honored with deep gratitude. I salute, embrace and support you with all my heart. You are all an example of strength and resolve and serve as an ongoing testament to the power of our nation when we work together for that which matters most. And this is the strength of Nechama, who said, only days after losing both her sons: “If there are no values to dedicate life to, life itself has no value.”
May the memory of our fallen boys and girls be a blessing for all of Am Yisrael.