by Zeev Galili
TRANSLATED BY Ada Geller
My Six-Day war is the war in which I lost a friend who, more than anyone else, left his indelible imprint on mine and my family’s lives. The existential anxiety that preceded the war and the triumphal intoxication in its wake, were obliterated once the bad news arrived – Joshua Diamant had been killed in the battle for Jerusalem
An Energy Bomb
Joshua burst into our lives like a storm. We were then a young couple with a few months old baby-girl and having to juggle diapers, livelihood, mortgage, and studies. But he, though merely three years younger than us, seemed from a different planet. While appearing to be a carefree bachelor in shorts and sandals, wearing a knitted skullcap, sporting a thick mustache, and always smiling, he was in fact a bundle of explosive energy that during the days worked in road construction, and at nights helped out in his father’s small textile plant. And all the while, he studied at the university, taught at half a dozen schools, was a tour guide, served as a reserve paratrooper, and even managed to beat two international chess grandmasters, Smyslov and Gligoric, in a simultaneous game, .
An Amateur Photographer As Well
He initiated the contact with us in his typical manner. He and my wife were classmates in a statistics course. After she failed a test, he offered to tutor her. He kept his promise, and appeared one day, unexpectedly, at our doorstep. Shortly thereafter we became soul mates and he became a member of our family. He cared devotedly for our baby daughter and for her brother that was born two years later. He photographed them frequently. Upon revisiting the old albums recently, we realized that most of our children’s photos from that period were taken by him.
A Deep Depression
My wife and I entered into a long period of deep depression following his death. Upon hearing the tragic news, we went to console his parents, Abraham and Tova, who lived in our neighborhood, and then to his grave at the Mount Herzl cemetery where the fallen soldiers were buried hurriedly while the smell of death still hung in the air.
Later we withdrew into ourselves. His mother died shortly thereafter. His father came to visit us each Sabbath but with great sensitivity did not mention Joshua. He, this bereaved father, a soul as gentle as his son, was considerate of our bereavement. Thus together we silently communed with Joshua.
The wound of losing Joshua kept bleeding for years. Only four years later, upon the birth of our third son whom we decided to name Joshua, we experienced some measure of relief. The skullcap I wore during my son’s brit-milah has remained on my head ever since. I felt that I thereby had earned the privilege to have known Joshua. We bonded with his sisters, visited his gravesite annually, discovered that there are at least six other of his namesakes, and taught his legacy to our children.
What could be said about the legacy of a man whose life was cut short at the age of twenty seven? His was, seemingly, a standard path of studies at Kfar-Ha’Roeh Yeshiva, service as a paratrooper, and studies at the University. His is, seemingly, a story of a good and gentle guy, a loyal friend, a devoted son, a man imbued with the love for Israel, a deeply religious man radiating his belief on his surroundings, a truly charitable and pious man. Yet if I were to describe him I would say that of all people known to me, he exemplifies, as much as anybody, the image of the righteous man.
The Curse of Forgetfulness
As the years passed by and we aged along our children and grandchildren, Joshua remained a twenty seven year old but his image blurred.
When my editor asked me to write about “My Six-Day War”, my instant response was that I have nothing to say since the IDF did not recruit me and I spent the war as a civilian in the rear. This was immediately followed by Joshua’s memory flashing through my mind, and by the realization that the passing of time that had served to dull the pain and heal the wounds, resulting in forgetfulness.
Suddenly I found myself trying to remember his sisters’ names, where and how he got killed, and other details pertaining to his life. Upon goggling the name “Joshua Diamant” I found someone else but not our Joshua, who is nowhere to be found on the internet. I took it as a personal offense.
Then I remembered Dr. Yehuda Meltzer, the publisher of “Aliath Gag.” He is a pleasant man of culture, the son of the poet Simson Meltzer who wrote “A Poem for Rashi”. I went to meet him.
Yehuda is a nice man but ideologically a world apart from me. He believes that settling ‘Gush Emunim’ was disastrous for Israel, I believe otherwise. We have, however, one thing in common – longings for Joshua. Our meeting left me teary eyed.
Similarly to mine, Yehuda’s ties with Joshua were formed during a few short years but left an indelible impression. They had met accidently, when Yehuda, who served years as a teacher, was suddenly reassigned at the eve of the war to a combat platoon where Joshua took him under his wings and cared for all his needs
Joshua was in the paratrooper’s division that was to parachute and fight in the El-Arish area. When he heard that instead his division had been reassigned to fight in Jerusalem, he was elated. He told his friends: “imagine where we are heading. There is nothing as important as that for a Jew.”
Joshua’s unit advanced along the Shechem Road while snipers on both sides of the road left many dead and wounded. The column reached a narrow alley with a machine gun at its end. The task of Joshua’s squad was to storm the alley. He charged out in front of his squad, exposed to the fire, until felled by an enemy’s bullet.
For Jerusalem’s Sake
During the battle he told one of his friends: “Should something happen to me, tell my parents that it was for the sake of Jerusalem”
One of the Biblical commentators (“Megaleh Amukot”) provides the following exegesis to verse 6:2 in the Song of Songs “My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.” He writes: ““My beloved” is God himself who comes down to take into his embrace the souls of the righteous.
He then continues to ask: “Why do young ones die sometimes and sometimes old ones die?”
And there is no answer to this question.