8 May 2014
By Emily Gian
We first met in late December 1996 when my parents took me to Israel for the first time as part of a UIA family mission.
My family and I travelled around the country and at some point late in our trip, we spent some time visiting the Arava where you lived on a moshav with your family.
I was just thirteen years of age and unfortunately, I really don’t remember much about our visit. The children were on a separate bus to the parents, and for some reason my most vivid memories of our trip are more from the bus rides than from the sites of Israel themselves. But I do remember the Arava and I remember meeting you and some of your friends, we were the same age. I can’t remember any of the other names though I wish now that I did. I remember we talked about boys because, after all, what else do thirteen year old girls talk about? And I remember we exchanged addresses.
When I returned home to Australia, I recall we wrote each other letters. There were just a few and I confess that I don’t remember their content, but I am sure they also talked about boys and school. Nothing too profound: we came from completely different worlds, but our teenage issues were the same.
I may have even forgotten this encounter entirely, had it not been for the fact that I returned to Israel two years later with my school on a three month program. We were taken to the Arava, and I recall being taken to a group of students who were the same age as we were.
Tamar, do you remember how I recognised you from two years earlier and that we talked briefly about that encounter. Your class spent the day with my group and then when went our separate ways.
I have travelled back to Israel numerous times since then but I have never returned to the Arava. Strangely, having worked for the Zionist Council of Victoria/Zionist Federation of Australia, I heard numerous stories through the partnership between our community and yours. Every time somebody mentioned the Arava, I thought about you and wondered what you were doing with your life since our encounters those years ago.
Tamar, when I saw your photo up on the screen four nights ago in Melbourne, I recognised you almost straight away.
They said you were from Moshav Faran. Without telling him why, I asked my father if he remembered the name of the moshav we had visited, just to be sure. He knew straight away.
They said that you visited Australia in 1999 as a part of a youth delegation for Partnership2Gether. I wondered if your visit reminded you of the Australian groups that had come through your moshav? I wondered if our paths had crossed again in Australia without even realising it.
They said that you had enlisted into the army, and that you served in Jerusalem. They mentioned that you used to fall asleep on the bus and people used to leave you love letters.
And then they said that on the eleventh of June 2003, just a month shy of your 20th birthday, you were killed in a terror attack when a terrorist boarded your bus and detonated an explosive device. Sixteen other people were killed and more than 100 wounded in the attack.
Tamar, when I saw your face pop up on the screen at our Yom Hazikaron commemoration on Sunday night, of course I knew straight away that something had happened to you. I froze …
I did not really know you, and yet the news, eleven years after the fact, that you had been killed in a terrorist attack rattled me to my core. We were the same age and shared the same dreams as teenagers. How is it that the life was ripped out of you and you left this world, like so many others in this conflict, well before your time?
Tamar, when I returned home that evening and I listened to sad songs about war and loss, I cried for you. I cried that you never got to finish the army and travel the world. I cried that you did not get the chance to go to University, or get married, or bring children into this world. I cried because I thought we led such similar lives at age thirteen and I cried because I felt guilty.
Yom Hazikaron is a painful day for all Israelis. Each and every Israeli has been touched in some way by the pain of losing a parent, a sibling, a cousin or a friend to the many wars and terror attacks in Israel. I cannot imagine what this pain feels like, and I am grateful that I do not know either.
This Yom Hazikaron did feel different though. This is the first year that I am a mother. My husband is Israeli, and thoughts of living in Israel are always at the back of our minds. As my beautiful friend and colleague Michelle Rojas-Tal (who became a mother on the very same day as I did) put so eloquently, “this year will also be different for me. This is the first year that we will commemorate Yom Hazikaron as parents. For me, as a mother, looking at my young daughter, reminds me of the sacrifice so many have made before her, and continue to make, in order to ensure that the place she calls home, will be safe for her”.
My Israeli mother-in-law once asked me, before my son was born, if I would send him to serve in the IDF. My answer was that I hope that by the time he grows up, there will be peace and therefore the idea of sending children off to serve in the army would not be as daunting. With a look of despair and sadness she replied, “that is what I thought when my boys were born”.
It breaks my heart every time I think about her sitting nervously at home in the early 2000s when two of her four boys were serving in elite combat units in Gaza and on Israel’s border with Lebanon. And they were the lucky ones – they came home.
Tamar, I did not know you and I cannot find adequate words to memorialise you on this day. But I have a hope that your death did not happen in vain. These words will never be of comfort to your family but with all of my heart I hope that your memory and the memory of Israel’s 23, 169 fallen soldiers and 2,495 victims of terror will be a blessing to all who knew you.
Peace and love,