"A Father's Ode to His Lost Son"

The Washington Post, August 27, 2006 | Abridged by The iCenter

Uri, my beloved:

 

Throughout your brief life we all learned from you. From your strength and your determination to follow your own path. To follow it even if there is no chance at all of succeeding. We marveled at your battle to get accepted into tank commanders' course. You didn't give in to your officers because you knew that you could be a good commander, and you weren't prepared to make do with contributing less than you were able. And when you succeeded, I thought: Here's a man who knows his abilities in such a simple and sober way. Without conceit and without arrogance. Unaffected by what others say about him. Whose source of strength lies within.

 

You were like that from childhood. A boy who lives in harmony with himself and with those around him. A boy who knows his place, knows that he is loved, is aware of his limitations, and knows what's special about him. And, really, from the moment you bent the entire army to your will and became a commander, it was clear what kind of commander and human being you would be. Today, we hear from your comrades and soldiers about the sergeant and the friend, about the guy who gets up before everyone to organize everything, and who goes to sleep after everyone else has already dozed off.

 

And yesterday, at midnight, I looked around the house, which was a mess after the hundreds of people who had come to console us, and I said: Okay, now we need Uri, to help put things straight.

 

I remember you telling me about your roadblock policy -- you spent a lot of time manning roadblocks in the territories. You said that if there is a child in a car you pull over, you always begin by trying to calm the kid down, to make him laugh. That you always remind yourself that the kid is about [your sister] Ruti's age. And you'd always remind yourself how frightened he is of you. And how much he hates you, and that he has reasons for that, and still, you will do all you can to make that terrifying moment easier for him, while doing your job, without fudging.

 

When you went to Lebanon, Mom said that the thing that most scared her was your volunteer complex. We were very frightened that if someone had to run to save a wounded man, you'd charge straight into enemy gunfire, and that you'd be the first to volunteer to bring more ammunition. That's the way you were your whole life, at home and in school, and in the army. You willingly gave up your home leave when some other soldier needed it more than you did. You'd do the same in Lebanon, in the war.

 

I won't say now anything about the war you were killed in. We, our family, have already lost in this war. The state of Israel will now take stock of itself. We, the family, will withdraw into our pain, surrounded by our good friends, enveloped in the powerful love that we feel today from so many people, most of whom we do not know. I thank them for their support, which is unbounded.

 

Uri simply had the courage to be himself, always, in all situations. To find his precise voice in everything he said and did. That is what protected him from pollution, corruption and the constriction of his soul.

 

May we be able to give this love and solidarity to each other at other times as well. That is perhaps our unique national resource. It is our greatest human national treasure. May we know how to be a bit more gentle with each other, and may we succeed in saving ourselves from the violence and hostility that has penetrated so deeply into all aspects of our lives. May we know how to get our bearings and save ourselves now, at the very last minute, because very hard times await us.

 

* * *

Dear friends,

 

On Saturday night, at 11 o'clock, our doorbell rang. Through the intercom they said, "From the town major's office." And I went to open, and I thought to myself: That's it, our life is over.

 

But five hours later, when Michal and I went into Ruti's room and woke her up to tell her the horrible news, Ruti, after her initial weeping, said: "But we'll live, right?" We will live and go on trips like before, and I want to go on singing in the choir, and we'll continue to laugh like always, and I want to learn to play guitar, and we hugged her, and we said that we would live. And Ruti also said, "What a wonderful threesome we were, Yonatan, Uri and me."

 

Our lives are not over. But we have suffered a very severe blow. We'll take the strength to withstand it from ourselves, from our togetherness, Michal's, mine and our children's. And from Grandpa and the two grandmothers, who loved him with all their hearts -- Neshuma, they called him in Yiddish, because he was all soul. And from his uncles and aunts and cousins and all his many friends from school, and his soldier friends, who are with us in concern and in companionship.

 

And we will also take our strength from Uri. He had enough power to last us many years. He radiated life, vitality, warmth and love so strongly, and his light will continue to shine on us, even if the star that produced it has gone out.

Our love, it was our great privilege to live with you. Thank you for every moment that you were ours.

 

Translated from the Hebrew by Israeli writer Haim Watzman.

 
 
 

Discussion Questions

“We, our family, have already lost in this war. The State of Israel will now take stock of itself. We, the family, will withdraw into our pain, surrounded by our good friends, enveloped in the powerful love that we feel today from so many people, most of whom we do not know.”

As Israelis mark Yom Hazikaron, and then Yom Ha’Atzmaut, how do you think the Grossman family, and thousands of other families like them, view their personal loss and the “greater good”?

  • What tensions does David raise throughout the eulogy?
  • What do you think of the “unique national resource” David defines?

Select one or two sentences from the eulogy that resonate for you:

  • Why did you choose this passage? What meaning does it carry for you?
  • What themes does David touch on as he says goodbye to Uri?         
  • If you could ask a question of David or Uri, what would it be?
  • What can we learn about role models and leadership from the way David describes his son?

Near the end of the eulogy, David recounts his youngest child’s question: "'But we’ll live, right?' We hugged her, and we said that we would live."

 

  • Do you see a message in the determination of a family to choose life? Is there a message for you?

David Grossman is one of Israel’s leading authors. His fiction and nonfiction work has spent years atop the country’s bestseller lists, and his writing has been translated into more than 30 languages. The short novel A Horse Walks Into a Bar was released early in 2017, and his earlier works of fiction include The Book of Intimate Grammar, See Under: Love, The Zig-Zag Kid, and Someone to Run With. His nonfiction books include The Yellow Wind and Sleeping On a Wire. which offer searing insights into the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

An outspoken peace activist, he joined two other prominent Israeli writers -- A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz -- in a public call to the Israeli government to end the Second Lebanon War just two day before his son Uri was killed in combat.

 

Click here to read a profile of David Grossman in The New Yorker, The Unconsoled: A Writer’s Tragedy, and a Nation’s, published in 2010 on the occasion of the publication of the English translation of To the End of the Land¸ the book Grossman had nearly completed when Uri was killed; he rewrote it entirely.