Today, Yom HaZikaron, I addressed the high school students of Yeshivah College in Melbourne. I don't know if many knew about Yom HaZikaron, but I think they do now. Here is the text of my speech.
Thank you for inviting me to speak.
My brother, Yehuda Pakula, was 17 when he left Australia in 1968.
He left for several reasons.
He wished to explore his roots in Israel, as our mother’s family came to Australia from Tzefat, pre WW1.
He wanted to visit ancient places about which he had learned in the TaNaCh while at school in Yeshivah College, where he had just completed year 12.
He was inspired by the recent miracle of the 6-Day-War, and wanted to be part of the thrilling story of Modern Israel.
He had been the target of one too many anti-Semitic attacks, where he had been pushed off his bike, beaten and called a ‘bloody Jew’.
He bought a one-way ticket to Israel and swore that he would not return to Australia.
We must be careful what we wish for. He never did return.
After meeting family and doing some touring, he did Ulpan on Kibbutz Sde Eliahu and integrated very quickly into the kibbutz community, eventually becoming a Chaver Kibbutz and then a member of the ‘Yachdav’ Garin. He was expert in driving heavy tractors to till the fields for planting. He had found his niche.
He enlisted in the IDF January 1971, underwent basic military training and joined the Armed Corps as a tank driver.
He was on Miluim, reserve duty, when he was stationed at the Mezach, on the Suez, and was one of the first casualties of the Yom Kippur War, falling on the 6th of October, killed by a sniper’s bullet fired across the Suez. He had been due to be married in November of that year. He was 22.
His platoon were forced to surrender after a week of fierce fighting, under constant artillery attack by the Egyptians. They were out of food and ammunition, and the IDF had not been able to rescue them. The commander of the unit, Shlomo Erdinast, aged 21, insisted that the Red Cross be present for the surrender, which took place on the 8th day of the war, a Shabbos. The men had washed themselves and their uniforms as best they could so as to not go down in history humiliated and in tatters, rather as proud representatives of Israel.
Erdinast had also insisted that the Red Cross supervise the return of the 5 fallen to Israel for burial. But this did not happen; Yehuda and his fallen fellow soldiers were left where they fell. The bodies were not returned for burial until after the 1978 Camp David Accords. They were left for 5 years in the desert. After the Accords, IDF soldiers with specially trained dogs were brought to find the remains which were identified with their tags and with dental records. Yehudah was brought to Kever Yisrael in Har Herzl military cemetery.
Yehuda’s death was a terrible tragedy in a terrible war, and it took a terrible toll on my parents.
My father was a Holocaust survivor who had lost most of his family, including his first wife and 2 sons, murdered by the Nazis.
My mother never recovered emotionally and died 11 years later of cancer, but grief definitely played a part.
I was 18 and my parents were devastated. There was no such thing as grief counseling then, and we survived in our own ways.
My parents and I were flown over to Israel by the Israeli Government in December, shortly after Yehudah’s death was confirmed as his platoon which had been taken prisoner by the Egyptians was released after 5 weeks, in prisoner exchanges. We stayed on Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu where we all were assigned jobs; for my parents, my father especially, work was therapy as he was skilled with a sewing machine and mended all the kibbutzniks’ clothes.
It was a strange, difficult time in Israel after the war. People were mourning; every family had lost someone or had a wounded son.
To give you some perspective, the population of Israel at the time was under 3.5 million; 2,688 soldiers had been killed and about 9,000 physically wounded. These numbers do not take into account psychological injuries. There was a sort of numbness in the people, which ran parallel with frenetic activity and partying of the youth. The economy was pretty poor then and people were struggling. I was only 18 and spent a lot of the time on kibbutz. It took me years to even realize that I was also psychologically affected, not least because my parents, my mother especially, were prisoners of their grief and were functioning at a very low level, getting the bare minimum done in order to live; it was a very quiet house.
Fortunately I was able to focus on my medical studies and with the seeming carelessness of youth, I had a busy social life and was active on campus, editing the student newspaper, getting involved in student politics, campaigning for the release of Soviet Jewry etc. Around 1970 Ali Kazak had come as a PLO lobbyist and started whipping up pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel sentiment on campuses. There were rallies and there was violence but I feel it is far worse today.
Unfortunately, Israel has had to make too many sacrifices in fighting for her freedom and very right to exist.
But, until Moshiach comes, we must be prepared for this terrible ongoing loss of life in defence of our land; we must be strong and of good spirit, Chazak veAmatz, because Eretz Yisrael is all we have.
It was true for Yehuda and it remains true today.
Far all those, nearly 28,000, who have fallen in defence of Israel, and as victims of terror:
YEHI ZICHRAM BARUCH.
Am Yisrael Chai.