Last week Friday, I lost a good friend, and we all lost a great person. He was a soldier, but the battle in which he left us was not a battle with an enemy, it was a battle with himself. I don’t know why he did it, and I know that I never will, but I can’t shake the feeling that if somebody had seen him struggling in time, and given him the attention he needed in order to talk out his problems, he might still be here with us now. Obviously there is nobody that can or should be blamed for this, but it’s a crucial learning point for us all. It’s so important to just be aware of the people around you, and when they need it, give them the attention, and encouragement that they do need. I’m not saying that this could have been avoided, I don’t know what he was going through, and I don’t think anybody does, but it is our duty to try. This is a short tribute I wrote to the great person that Gilad was, and some of the effect that he had on my life.
I first met him about three years ago when my Yeshiva did a trip to Yerucham where we spent one of our first Shabbatot of the year, praying and learning by his Yeshiva. Upon arriving for Kabbalat Shabbat, Friday evening, I happened to sit next to Gilad. As I sat down, I shyly looked over at him, and in a very American accent, I managed to utter, “Shabbat Shalom.” He immediately bolted up, looked over at me, and with the huge smile that anybody who knew him, recognized, shot back at me, “Shabbat Shalom Achi! Welcome to my Yeshiva!” I felt relieved, and very welcome indeed! In between some of the prayers, we would exchange a few words here and there. I remember telling him that I was thinking of drafting, and he got very excited, and remarked that he was also going to be drafting shortly. When it came time for singing, he enthusiastically grabbed my hand and pulled me to go dance with everybody. After dinner, he invited me to go learn Gemara with him, and we ended up talking until very late into the night. We talked about religion, the army, philosophy, and a lot about biology. At the time I was really into biology, and it turned out that he knew a lot about cells. We talked about different types of cells and their functions, mind when I say ‘we talked about,’ what I really mean is, ‘he gave me an in depth lecture on’… I couldn’t understand where he was pulling all of this information from, but I would find out soon.
When it came time to say goodbye, he insisted that I come to his house for a Shabbat. I had known him for just 24 hours, but we were both in Yeshiva, and we didn’t really have any outside time to hang out. I also got the feeling that this was a friendship that I didn’t want to miss out on. I said to myself, “How often do you meet somebody so excitable, so happy with life, so friendly and warm, and who can make you feel like a close friend the instant you meet him?” So I accepted, and the next week I found myself being greeted at his home in Efrat, half an hour before Shabbat, by him, his parents, and two of his younger brothers, all scrambling to set up the house in time for Shabbat. I instinctively asked if there was anything I could do to help get ready, and his dad pulled out a broom and graciously exclaimed, “Yes! You could sweep up, that would be a great help!” I laughed, and then when I realized that he was being serious, I grabbed the broom from him and began dutifully sweeping the floor. They didn’t hide anything, or try to dress anything up either, they were very real. My Shabbat there was as unique as any I have experienced, and I have experienced some unique Shabbatot, so that is saying something. I found that his brothers were also exceptionally smart, and I quickly understood why that shouldn’t surprise me. His parents highly encouraged education and artistry. I noticed a handwritten English poem hanging on the fridge with some scattered Hebrew words thrown in. It was a very high level poem, and I didn’t totally understand everything that it was saying, even though it was mostly in English, but especially with the Hebrew words thrown in. I assumed that this was a project from school or something, but when I inquired about it, I learned that in their house, each week each kid would write a poem, and at the end of the week they would choose the best one to go up on the fridge. That week’s poem happened to be Gilad’s.
After dinner, we went over to the living room, and I found on the coffee table, a gigantic textbook, at least 6 inches thick, with a big illustration of a cell on the cover, titled something along the lines of, “Every Single Thing You Might Ever Want To Know About Cells, Expanded Edition.” It was so big, that I was surprised the coffee table was still standing underneath it, and the thought of lugging it to classes would probably scare any student away, but since I was interested in biology and curious, I peeked inside the book. Immediately his youngest brother who I think was only 7 or 8 jumped over and said in a not quite American, but also not Israeli accent, “Hey! I’m reading that!” I looked back at him incredulously, and he looked up at his dad, adding, “Yup, with my dad. He’s teaching me!”
By this point, I already knew beyond any doubt that there was something incredibly special about this family. This is a family that doesn’t just raise their kids, but cultivates them, they integrate within them love, inclusion, happiness, and to a very high degree, the pursuit of education. That’s how Gilad got to be the way he was.
I knew that I wanted to maintain this friendship with Gilad, but after a few months that we never got together, we unfortunately fell out of touch. It wasn’t until almost two years later, about one year ago, when we were both enrolled in the Medics Course in the IDF that we rekindled our friendship. I noticed him in the hall on the first day of the course, rubbed my eyes in disbelief and ran over to him to say hi. I wasn’t sure if he would even remember me, but sure enough he swiveled around, and with his same huge smile blurted out “Max! what are you doing here?!” We spoke for a few minutes to catch up, but then it was time to go, so we went off with our respective commanders. Throughout the course he would always shoot me high fives whenever we would see each other passing by in the halls, and shout out in English in a very good American accent in front of everybody, “Hey Max! How’s it going?” He was the kind of person that even on your blackest of days, he could make you happy with just a smile. He radiated positive energy, and everybody around him could feel it. I think that is the most important thing in life, making those around you feel good, so to me, he was someone who had mastered life. I learned a lot from him, and iI can easily say that he had a very significant impact on my own life. I hope that now, he will still be able to teach and inspire people, through stories of the great person that he was.
Gilad, your memory lives on.
If you yourself, or someone you know is going through a hard time, and the thought of suicide has crossed your mind, please seek help from professionals. Here are two hotlines, one for USA, and one for Israel. There are also a huge number of other resources that can be easily found online. Stay Safe
Suicide Hotline in Israel: 1201
Suicide Hotline in America: 1800-273-8255