Late yesterday afternoon (Thursday, August 21, 2014), at Israel’s National Cemetery, Har Herzl, the family and friends of IDF soldier Cpl. David Menachem Gordon said goodbye to their son and friend. Per the family’s request, no public notice had been given.
The burial was to be a private affair. It was. Less than 500 attended.
This is my personal recollection of the burial service. It is not a verbatim report.
There were many soldiers. They came to honour David. So did friends, acquaintances and strangers who came simply to pay their final respects to a young man who had come to Israel to join his people. Those who came were Haredi (ultra-orthodox), Dati Leumi (religious nationalist) and Secular. Although those who came to honour David held very different religious beliefs, we cried together as one family, with one grieving heart.
As the grave-side ceremony began, a military honour-guard made up of his comrades carried his flag-wrapped coffin down a shaded path to the burial-site. It was a truly silent, somber moment.
David’s family and closest friends sat beside him as his coffin was lowered into his grave. The rest of us stood behind the family (I couldn’t see from my position when precisely David was lowered to his final resting place. I assume it was at this time).
As David lay in his grave before us, the burial ceremony began with a prayer. A special grave-site Kaddish (mourner’s prayer) was recited.
We listened to Psalm 16:
Protect me, Oh G-d, for I have sought refuge in You…You guide my destiny….You will not abandon my soul to the grave…You will make known to me the fullness of joys in Your Presence.
David’s father said the mourner’s Kaddish for his son.
David’s Battalion Commander spoke. He said, David, you came to the IDF in 2013. You were assigned to us, the Shaked Battalion, in Givati. You completed your basic training. You passed your advanced training. You were noticed by your officers. You were identified as one who had high qualities. You were chosen as Assistant to the Platoon Commander. This is the most desirable and prestigious position a young soldier can attain. This year, you fulfilled your destiny. You fought for your country in Gaza and you played a significant part in that fight.
David, you were a gifted sniper. You were always first to volunteer. You always performed at the highest level.
Another military speaker—whose name I couldn’t catch—said, David, today we give to you a last honour. We bring you to a mountain—a mountain of heroes—Har [which means, ‘mountain of’] Herzl. David, you were a soldier in the army of HaShem [G-d]. You now go up the Beit Din [Court] on High. David, please ask HaShem to bless us with peace.
My son-in-law spoke. He said, David, your parents have lost a son. Your comrades in Gavati [his battle unit] have lost a brother. Many of us have lost a friend.
David, while you served, you were always caring for your comrades. You fought for them. You saved some of their lives. Now, you are gone. David, today your mission changes. Now, you watch over your comrades from a more strategic position. David, you are our son. We will miss you.
David’s officer spoke. He said, David, you came to me nine months ago. You were all smiles. You never complained. You were always ready to help another. You were always telling me we weren’t practicing hard enough. You were always pushing to do more, become better, do better. These are the reasons I chose you to be my Assistant. I have never regretted that decision. You were special. You participated in the fight to defend your country. I am proud of you.
The service ended with a rifle-fire salute—three shots in quick succession. We heard the words, “And David said to Gaad, ‘I am exceedingly distressed. Let us fall into HaShem’s Hand, for His Mercies are abundant’”.
The final grave-site prayer was recited, beginning with the words, “O G-d, full of mercy…”
Then, finally, we sang for David—one last time—Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva [the hope].
Goodbye, David Menachem Gordon. You were a good man. You were kind. You were loyal to your comrades in battle. You fulfilled your duty with honour and courage. You were an outstanding soldier. You overflowed with talent and potential. Oh, David, we will miss you.
May your family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. May the Builder of Jerusalem-renewed comfort you with an everlasting peace.