I will never forget the sight or the feel of seeing thousands of people solemnly making their way through the neighborhoods to the military cemetery in Kiryat Ata, a city just north of Haifa. As a former IDF soldier I had been to several military ceremonies, but this one was unique. This one touched much closer to home. It was a funeral for Shai Kushnir, who grew up in my Messianic congregation in the Haifa area, Tents of Mercy. He was killed by a mortar shell on the Gaza border on July 31, 2014.
I cannot say I knew Shai well, but I do remember the interactions we had, like working out together in the gym. Everybody enjoyed being around Shai. Eitan Shishkoff, our congregational leader, wrote of him, “As a teen, his constant smile and fun-loving, easy going nature belied his intense desire to serve in a combat unit.”
Many have pointed out, and it’s worth mentioning again, that Shai did not have to serve in a combat unit. Even though Israel has a mandatory military service, there is a law that an only son must have his parents’ written permission to serve in combat. It seems odd when I think about it, like getting your parents’ permission to go on a school trip. Yet this indicates the value Israel places not only on its soldiers, but the soldiers’ family.
Shai chose to be a combat soldier because he believed he was playing a vital role in the protection of our country and people. Yeshua said, “No one has greater love than a person who lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). This was Shai.
How should we remember and honor Shai? How do we value not just his sacrifice, but also his life? Eitan Shishkoff wrote:
For me, standing near his grave, surrounded by sober, resolute, tender yet sinewy infantrymen, that value is framed by the divine mandate to make our home here, in Eretz Yisrael. From the cemetery I can see Mount Carmel, one of our country’s biblical and geophysical landmarks. I’m reminded of God’s declaration to Abraham: “I will establish my covenant between me and you … for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also, I give to you and your descendants after you the land … all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:7, 8)
Tonight at 8pm there is an one-minute siren marking the beginning of Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day). It is a remarkable feeling as everyone across the country stops what they are doing, whether it’s work, watching television, or even driving on the highway, to stand silently, honoring our fallen soldiers. Tomorrow at 11am there will be a two-minute siren, marking the opening of the official memorial ceremonies. As of today, May 10, 2016, the number stands at 23,447. I knew Shai and his story. There is a story to every single soldier.
Let us remember them and give thanks to God, the Guardian of Israel, for the lives of these young men and women. Because of them, we are able to live in the Land of Israel as promised to us by God.