Yom Hazikaron-Israel Memorial Day (4Th of Iyar): Assaf Will Always Be Twenty-One. (Israel)

Article excerpt

I couldn't resist. We were recently in Israel visiting friends in Rechovot. Their daughter had bought a small motor bike, and I asked her if I could take it out for a ride. It brought back memories when I had been a student in Israel. I sat down on the bike and began riding it around the neighborhood, a collection of new homes on the southern side of town. After passing a few streets, I noticed a sign pointing to the military cemetery where Assaf was buried.

I drove up a slight incline until I reached the cemetery and found the entrance. I didn't go in because I am a kohen. I stood outside and said whatever prayer came to my head, as I thought again of that terrible day almost nine years ago.

We became good friends with the Tenenbaum family when I was a visiting scientist at the Weizmann Institute more than 20 years ago. Miryam and Yona's oldest son, Assaf, was a little younger than our oldest son, and their second son, Eran, was in gan (kindergarten) with our youngest son. Ro'ee was a baby. Miryam was and is a Hebrew teacher in the local public schools, and Yona is a research scientist.

Our friendship with the Tenenbaums deepened, and we spent many Shabbatot and chagim (holidays) with them. They were the children of Holocaust survivors and had been born in Europe after the war. We took many tiyulim (trips) with them to see the country and show our children the vistas of Israel. I still remember one trip in the Galil when our car got two flats at the same time traveling on a dirt road.

We remained close friends even after we returned to New York. Every year or two since then we spent time with them on our trips to Israel. Our children, as well, continued their relationships, and we felt very close to them and also to our other friends in Rechovot. The years passed. We saw the boys growing up. We attended Assaf's Bar-Mitzvah and shared their Smachot (festive occasions) with them, either from near or afar.

Assaf, Eran, and Ro'ee all attended the local yeshiva high school in Rechovot and were avid members of B'nai Akiva, the religious Zionist youth movement. Assaf grew tall and straight and stood over six feet. When he became 18, he volunteered for the prestigious Golani Brigade even though he was invited to join an elite non-combat intelligence unit. Upon completion of basic training, he asked to become a combat medic and trained for that as well. When he completed his army service, he intended to become a research scientist like his father.

In the summer of 1993, we visited Israel and spent time in Rechovot with the Tenenbaums as usual. I left a few days early, and my wife stayed on with our youngest daughter in their apartment on Hanassi Harishon Street. It was Thursday morning, Bet Elul 5753, August 19, 1993. Miryam was straightening out the laundry on the mirpeset (porch), and my wife was in the living room. Just another hot, summer day. Assaf was expected home for Shabbat from Lebanon. There was a knock on the door. Closest to the entrance, my wife went to open it. There stood three men, one in uniform, one with a medical satchel. One of them said, Ha'im at G'veret Tenenbaum (Are you Mrs. Tenenbaum?). My wife said no. She understood who they were and in a frightened voice called for our friend.

Miryam came out from the mirpeset and, without thinking, said to them, "You've come to the wrong house, go away. …