Monday, May 01, 2006

In Memoriam: 22,313

Each year Israelis celebrate Independence Day by first honoring those who have perished fighting for Israel. Tonight, a day prior to Independence Day, Memorial Day commences with a siren's wail reminding the entire population to stop what they're doing and observe a moment of silence.

Tonight and tomorrow, families, friends and acquaintances throughout the country will visit gravesites, attend ceremonies, weep silently or loudly and mark the day as they see fit. I'll be thinking about Shalom.

Shalom was a fixer who worked with nearly every major foreign news network in Israel during the 80's and 90's. If you needed to cut through bureaucracy, get information, tap into inside connections or borrow a few hundred dollars for a visiting correspondent who had lost his wallet, Shalom had the vast network, deep pockets and know-how to get things done. He was congenial, on-the-go and genuine.

Shalom also was in the habit of phoning up Reuters' t.v. producers and South Lebanon cameraman whenever he'd gotten wind of a roadside bomb explosion or ambushed army unit in South Lebanon. Shalom's son was serving in the region and he knew that as journalists we were privy to names of injured or worse hours before censorship released personal information (pending notification of families). We used to tell him to relax. His son was okay. Stop worrying.

At 5 a.m. one morning, my cellphone rang. It was Dana, a co-producer. Stephanie. You know the incident last night in South Lebanon? Shalom's son was killed. He has been phoning Shlomi (the South Lebanon cameraman) all night begging for him to tell him whether he knows anything. Shlomi knows but of course he can't tell him.

I began crying. Does he have other children? I asked.

Stephanie, what does it matter?

And so it was that we all knew and we all sat silently on the most horrifying information possible out of a code of...I don't know what. Decency? Horror? But Shalom knew. He knew internally without the formality of army officers showing up at his door. I thanked god I wasn't Shlomi that day and wept for Shalom and his family.

We shut down the office the day of the funeral. It was horrible; we couldn't not be there.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the Shaloms of the world tonight and tomorrow. I'll leave with a poem from one of today's Hebrew dailies: (translated from Hebrew)

Where was he wounded?
You don't know if this regards the place on his body or the place in the country.
A bullet can sometimes pass through a human body and wound the country's surface at the same time....Yehuda Amichai

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