The sun already filtered her intense rays through more muted hues, a sign of the afternoon moving into evening there in the middle of Jerusalem. Our last stop of the day was Munitions Hill, the sight of a bloody and momentum changing battle in the Six Day War in 1967.
Our guide, Ezra, expertly wove historical fact with his own experiences as a soldier in that same battle as he moved us through the trenches left as a memorial to those fallen.
Ezra invited those of us who wanted to do a little climbing to come up a hill so he could show us where the battle ended. “Be careful,” he warned. “There’s not a walkway here, and the dirt and rocks can make the footing a little tenuous. Those of you who prefer to wait down here please do and I’ll fill you in when we come back down.” Some in our tour group plopped their bags and cameras down on wooden benches, grateful for a chance to sit.
I hopped up the hill carefully, happy I had swapped my flip flops for my running shoes that morning. I mentally calculated this terrain would be a high incline number on my treadmill at home.
Ezra looked back at those of us still following. “I’ve got a special story to share with you, about a soldier, an amazing man, my best friend, named Eitan.”
We continued to pick our way up the hill. To my side, I noticed the most elderly couple in our group, a stooped man dependent on a walker, and his white haired wife, slowly pushing their way up the hill. He had shared his name and age when we first met on the bus, and I was filled with admiration that at 89 he would attempt this trip with a walker. I moved carefully to them, hoping I could be of some help. His wife, seeing me, waved me off. “He won’t let anyone help him, Hon. Thank you though.” Their speed was excruciatingly tedious, but he never stopped, his wife’s hand on his arm to steady him as she could.
Ezra tapped a historical marker and gently brushed his finger under a name. “Eitan”, he said. “This is telling about Eitan, who at 19 years old was brave enough to sacrifice himself for his whole company. We were being mowed down like blades of grass. Eitan jumped out of the trenches here,“ Ezra said as he pointed to a bend in one of the stone fortified trenches. “He drew the fire that allowed the rest of us, me included, to move upwards, up there, where we weren’t in the direct line of fire anymore.” Ezra paused for a moment and gulped. He looked down and quickly brushed his face, wiping off a tear that spilled from his eye.
He struggled to compose himself. “I don’t always tell this part of the story because it still gets to me. I sometimes think of what Eitan would be doing now, how he would be enjoying a wife, children, grandchildren…all of which I do, and which wouldn’t be possible without his sacrifice. As long as I live, and as long as the stories of brave soldiers are told, Eitan won’t be forgotten.” Ezra kissed his fingers and brushed them over Eitan’s name. He started to move our group again when the elderly man with the walker and his wife finally reached our circle.
Ezra stopped and expressed surprise that they had come all the way up the hill. Although this octogenarian hadn’t said much the whole trip, his words were sure as he addressed Ezra.
“Son, I’m a soldier, too. I was there at the landing in Normandy. I’ve seen braver men than I fall, cut down as soon as their feet hit the sand. War is horrible, but I came all the way up this hill because as a soldier, I honor soldiers. Today, I honor Eitan.” With one hand holding firmly to his walker, he reached his other wrinkled hand forward and grasped Ezra’s. They locked their gazes on each other, both with eyes that had seen too much. Ezra slowly pulled the old man to him and they embraced, in silent memory.