One Israeli Soldier, 23 Namesakes and a Day of Remembrance
JERUSALEM — She had but one son, and he died childless at 21. Yet that boy spawned a generation.
At least 23 babies on three continents have been named for her Gil’ad, a lieutenant in the Israeli Army who was killed on the first day of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Hers was a musical prodigy with a sly wit. The others include a lawyer, a professor, an entrepreneur and students, some now parents themselves.
“This kid is a genius,” the original Gil’ad’s mother said of one namesake, a consultant who made millions by the age of 25 and now travels around the world. She spoke on the condition that her name and her son’s surname not be published, citing privacy concerns. “They’re all geniuses,” she said.
Members of the Gil’ad generation will be with her on Wednesday, Israel’s Memorial Day. Fifty or 60 people still come to the ceremony she hosts each spring, more than four decades after her son was killed: soldiers who served alongside him in the Armored Corps, boy scouts from his Jerusalem troop, nieces and grandnieces and great-grandnieces, too.
Memorial Day is a solemn 24 hours in Israel; people save the barbecues for Independence Day, which is Thursday. The mourning is intimate: In a small and young country, everyone seems to have a connection to one or more of the 23,320 fighters whom Israel counts as fallen since 1860 in the conflicts that have framed its modern existence. Relatives, friends and even remote acquaintances often name children to honor their memory.
Besides the mass commemoration at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl, in between the school assemblies and synagogue services, there are personal memorials each year, held in houses and parks and gardens. Gil’ad’s takes place in the retirement home in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem, where his mother lives.
Last year, there were soft drinks and snacks, and the guests sat in a circle and shared their links to Gil’ad. His commanding officer — who named his first child Gilad (some people drop the apostrophe) — described what happened on Oct. 6, 1973, when Egyptian soldiers crossed the Suez Canal in a surprise attack. A soldier from his unit recited the names of 18 comrades who died.