The Grief Never Ends, but an Army Widow Is Now Ready to Be Proud

Michal Kestan Keidar tells what it’s like when your husband gives his life protecting civilians near Gaza.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Michal Kastan-Keidar, whose husband was killed fighting in the Gaza War, April 2015.
Michal Kastan-Keidar, whose husband was killed fighting in the Gaza War, April 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Six brown boxes — on each attached a sheet of paper with the words “Lt. Col. Dolev Keidar” and his serial number. After Keidar was killed in the Gaza war last summer, what remained of his nearly 20 years in the army was packed in boxes and brought to the home of the Kastan-Keidar family in Modi’in.

His widow Michal Kesten Keidar hadn’t thought about where to put them. “I didn’t want to fill up the study, so I said to myself: ‘I’ll put them in the bedroom, and they sat there with me untouched for four days,” she says.

Then she decided to open the first two boxes, which contained all the gifts Keidar had received in his years in the Givati Brigade, as bureau chief to Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel, in the 80th Division, and in other positions. After Israel’s election last month, she unpacked two more.

“I’m not unpacking the other two. They can stay there. I’m still at the stage where it doesn’t make sense that this happened — that it’s not fair,” she says. “We were so happy together, we grew up together, we matured together, and somehow he grew to be a finished product, and then it was all over.”

In retrospect, says Kesten Keidar, “I ignored the fact that being in the army means war, that people kill and are killed.”

Lt. Col. Dolev Keidar, who was killed in the Gaza war in July 2014. Credit: Courtesy

Keidar fell on July 21. When suspicious-looking figures were spotted a few hundred meters from Sderot and Kibbutz Nir Am, Keidar, head of the Gefen Battalion from the army’s officers’ school, headed there with his command group.

The company commander in charge of the sector arrived in another vehicle. When the two vehicles approached the shadowy figures, the company commander’s car stopped to do a lookout. Then Keidar ordered his driver to go around the vehicle that had stopped.

Soon enough an anti-tank missile struck Keidar’s vehicle. The men rushed out and charged the Palestinians. Three other Israelis were killed; they were awarded a citation by the brigade commander.

Keidar was awarded a citation from the head of Southern Command; he selflessly “thwarted a serious terror attack on local residents.” In February, Keidar’s parents accompanied Kastan-Keidar to the ceremony in Be’er Sheva.

“At least at this point I’m very proud of him. At the shivah, whenever people said ‘hero,’ I muttered ‘idiot’ — because at the funeral I found out that he had gone around the company commander’s jeep. And after the rocket hit them, they charged after the terrorists, so it made me a little angry,” Kesten Keidar says.

“I talked about it with a friend of his from the army — I wanted to know why they charged after them. And the friend said it wouldn’t have been Dolev otherwise. By the time the citation came, I was ready to be proud of him for what he did.”

Talking to every soldier

Keidar, who concentrated in theater studies in high school, held many positions in the army. Officers who served with him say he wasn’t typical; his personality made him stand out.

He was seen as highly professional, someone who took his work very seriously but could always make people laugh. This included spot-on imitations of other officers, even superiors. Soldiers who served under him say he made them want to carry out his plans; he wasn’t interested in having them do things just to please him.

He took over as commander of the Gefen Battalion at officers’ school, where infantry officers are trained to become platoon commanders. It was just a few weeks before his death.

“The job was ideal for him,” says Kesten Keidar. “It’s really all about education there. Dolev knew the names and backgrounds of each of the 600 kids in his battalion — he made it his goal to talk to every soldier. And if any of his soldiers had welfare issues, Dolev would visit them at home.”

In 2012, 20 Eritrean asylum seekers were trapped between the border fences on the Egyptian frontier, in Keidar’s sector. Kesten Keidar says he sent a company commander to make sure they received food and medical care.

“The Eritreans were stuck between the fences, but the soldiers gave them food and water and a medic gave them IVs. You could ask him, ‘Why are you doing this dirty work?’ But it was better to have someone like Dolev there and then feel good about it when it was leaked to the media,” Kesten Keidar says.

“Whenever anybody is killed, people say that not only was he smart, he was also sensitive and loving. But Dolev really was caring, supportive and loving. I always said he was my protective edge, but that’s no good anymore,” she says, referring to the Gaza war, also known as Operation Protective Edge. “So I say he was my rock.”

After Keidar’s death, Kesten Keidar began writing essays for the Walla website, describing what bereavement was like; from coping with grief while raising three children — 10-year-old Maya, 7-year-old Uri and 3-year-old Guy — to preparing for a Memorial Day that would honor their father.

The essays were an unusual choice, as was her choice to speak at a Tel Aviv election rally that urged Israelis to vote out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She urged the people to vote for “someone who will prevent the next war.”

After that, she says, she wanted to keep a lower profile, but when Arutz Sheva journalist Haggai Hoberman accused her of being complicit in her husband’s death, that “wrecked all my plans,” she says. “I’m not seeking publicity for publicity’s sake, and I have no political ambitions.”

But some people on the Internet still think otherwise and sometimes are very aggressive.

“I’ve lost everything. You have a moral duty to listen. It’s just like standing at attention during the [Memorial Day] siren, because it’s an obligation,” she says.

“By the same token, Dolev ... lost everything. You don’t have to read what I write, but don’t go on Facebook and tell me to ‘quit whining already.’ I earned this with blood and fire and pillars of smoke.”

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