United with Israel Executive Director David Zeit was among the thousands upon thousands visiting bereaved families and attending funerals during the past several weeks, since the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers followed by continuous rocket fire from Gaza and Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. In this letter, Zeit, who grew up in the U.S., expresses his feelings and the sentiments of all Israelis.

David Zeit

United with Israel Executive Director David E. Zeit

I lived most of my life in a fabulous community. It is a community where everyone knows each other. It is a community that is known around the world for its generosity and warmth. It is a community that started out as immigrants and now, several generations later, continue to live together. The community is growing and thriving. I was a member of that community for 30 years and a leader in various capacities.

So, six years ago, when I told everyone that my family and I were making Aliyah (the Hebrew term for “ascending” i.e. “moving to Israel”), some found it very difficult to understand. It’s not that they aren’t Zionists. The community is extraordinarily pro-Israel. It’s just that, as I was told, “no one leaves the community. Who would want to? Especially you, David. You are a leader here. Why are you leaving the community?”

My answer was the same to everyone that asked: “I am leaving a community to be a part of a nation”

I never felt those words more than this morning, when I visited the Heiman family as they were sitting shiva for their son Yuval, a second Lieutenant in the Golani Brigade, who was killed on Monday along with six other soldiers while defending Israel from the terrorist group Hamas.

Shiva (the Hebrew word for “seven”) is the mandatory seven-day period of mourning that Judaism instituted for the immediate family of the deceased, where several restrictions are placed in order that full concentration on the deceased and mourning their loss are the primary focus.

Yuval lived in Efrat, my new community for the past six years, since making Aliyah. Sadly, I didn’t know Yuval and I don’t know his family. I’ve paid hundreds of “shiva calls” in my life, and if I’m not mistaken, all of them were to families that I knew, or at the very least had met prior to the visit. This morning was different. I don’t know the family but I went because I felt that I should.

People often wonder what the protocol is when visiting a bereaved family whom you had never met. In Israel, at times like this, there is no such protocol. Right or wrong, in the case of Yuval and the other fallen soldiers, this seven-day mourning period is not restricted to the immediate families. Not only did the Heimans and the other families lose a son and the Nation of Israel lose a soldier. Indeed, every citizen of Israel lost a son. And so we all mourn. We are all in “Shiva”. No matter who we are, family or stranger; no matter where we live, north or south; we will all flock to the house of mourning. We all lost a son. I lost a son.

Let me tell you about the son I lost. He was a brave soldier in an elite unit. He was handsome. He was strong. He was a good boy. He was respectful of others and everyone loved him. I am so proud of him, and today I mourn him. We all mourn him.

This may sound strange, but today was the day that my Aliyah dream was realized. Today, those words I said six years ago came true. I left a community to be a part of a nation. Today my nation mourns. But tomorrow we will rejoice. Because I know that the rest of my children in the IDF will prevail.

May God protect them, bless them and bring them home safe and sound.