A Bittersweet Memory of a Fallen Comrade - With a Surprise Ending

Remembrance is part of the Israeli DNA and so many of us recall friends, relatives and neighbors whose lives were cut short in war or terror. My friend Avi is sadly just one of so many.

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Singer-songwriter Avichai Paz Greenwald, May 2013. Credit: Ann Dror

In June 1982, during another summer of fighting, the Palestine Liberation Organization was firing Katyusha rockets at Israeli cities in the Galilee. The Israel Defense Forces invaded Lebanon.

I had been married for almost two years and was studying business administration at the Hebrew University. I was also an IDF reservist and was called up to join my paratrooper unit. We had been pulled away from civilian life to the surrealistic reality of war.

Our unit moved north on the operation’s eastern flank in armored personnel carriers; we watched the skies as Israeli planes made short order of Syrian MIGs. Ahead of us a line of Israeli tanks moved forward. As we approached Lake Qaraoun in the Beqaa Valley, two tanks suffered direct hits and caught fire. It was clear that no one had survived.

Within a few days, the names of the dead were released, and I was devastated to hear that a friend of mine, Avi Greenwald, was among them. He was the sweetest guy with an infectious smile and a large circle of friends. He was tall, skinny and spoke rapidly with a slight lisp.

Avi had been married only a few months. Later I found out that his wife was three months pregnant with a son. She would name the boy Avi.

Eventually Avi’s wife remarried and raised a family, but I had no contact with them. In 2001, almost 20 years after the Lebanon war, I went to a wedding in Jerusalem. I can’t even remember whose wedding it was, but one event is seared in my memory.

When I entered the hall looking for my table, I recognized an older man sitting by himself. It was the father of my friend Avi Greenwald. I went over and sat down next to him to say hello and share with him that Avi had not been forgotten. He asked about my family and work, and we were talking when a young man walked up to the table and said “Hi Grandpa.”

I was in complete shock as Mr. Greenwald introduced me to his grandson Avi. The boy’s facial expressions, height and coloring — he even had a lisp — was my friend Avi frozen in time. It took huge restraint not to rush over and hug this kid.

Tears came to my eyes. I introduced myself as a friend of his late father whom he had never known, and he continued chatting with his grandfather. I said my goodbyes and left the wedding.

I was shaken for days. Even as I write this so many years later, it’s a vivid recollection.

Remembrance is part of our Israeli DNA and so many of us recall friends, relatives and neighbors whose lives were cut short in war or terror. My friend Avi is sadly just one of so many.

I’m also a parent, one who wants to shield children from the negative, yet my grown kids have also had their summers of war in Israel. They have memories of their friends who didn’t come home.

The younger Avi is now a successful musician and poet in Israel. He is happily married to a woman named Avital; they have five children. In a strange twist of fate, Avital’s father was a close friend of Avi Greenwald and named his daughter Avital.

Avi Paz Greenwald does not feel that he was raised in a bereaved family, but in the past few years he has written songs about the dialogue he wishes he could have had with his father.

I occasionally see Avi’s work reviewed in the press and smile. I recall a friend who missed the joy of watching his son grow up — and the thrill of having grandchildren, as I’m enjoying now.

Danny Oberman made aliyah from Australia in 1975. He lives in Efrat and is happily married with five children and seven grandchildren.

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