Hundreds of soldiers donned their red berets as they crammed into the humble Haspin cemetery on the Golan Heights and – together with thousands of other Israelis – accompanied Staff Sergeant Shachar Shalev to his final resting place.
The 20-year-old resident of the Golan was critically injured some six weeks ago when an explosive device detonated in Khan Yunis during an IDF assault on Hamas' terror tunnels.
"For nearly 21 years you were an amazing gift, a present from above named Shachar. To our great misfortune, He wanted you with him," said his father, Shimon, at the funeral.
Shalev was pronounced dead on Sunday at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. The funeral procession began in Alonei HaBashan ; many of his friends, also wounded in Operation Protective Edge, arrived to the cemetery on crutches and in wheelchairs – some proudly wearing their uniform and red berets.
The fallen soldier's family eulogized him one by one, standing together, wearing the unit's shirt with flags of the Paratroopers Brigades behind them.
His father added: "All the prayers we said for you, may God keep them for later use. For five and a half weeks we sang and told you stories, but there were two things we didn't tell you – that they had to amputate both your legs, and that three of your friends were killed."
In an emotional eulogy, Shimon Shalev continued to speak of his son's final day. "Yesterday, when there was no hope left, we told you that you would meet your friends up there: Paz, Lee, and Dauber. We sang a few last songs, and we let you go."
With tears emphasizing his deep pain, Shimon continued: "You were a happy child that could do no wrong. Even when we had to punish you, we would laugh behind your back about what you had done."
Shalev's father thanked the people of Israel for their support of his son. "For five and a half weeks you brought the people of Israel together. Even today, after you had passed, people called to ask if we needed more blood platelets. For five and a half weeks we swung between desperation and hope. There was not one synagogue that did not pray for your recovery."
Shachar's mother, Naomi, participated in reading the Kaddish for her son, and read a letter from Shalev's 9-year-old brother, Doron. "I saw you at Soroka lying with your eyes closed. I know you were protecting your friend. I love you very much and I pray that you are not in pain."
She spoke of her son's final moments in his eulogy: "We stood by your bedside and said our goodbyes as we would to any hero. Every person who knew you spoke of a man who cared for everyone. You, his friends, must continue your lives in the army, travel, and eventually raise families."
In her eulogy, his sister Dganit emphasized Shalev's love of the Golan Heights. "You were the head of the gang and now we brought you home, to the land and scenery that you love. I promise you we will continue to do what you loved most, we'll continue to travel and to sing, but one of us – so dear – will be missing."
Shachar Shalev leaves behind four other siblings: Eyal, 22; Hagai, 19; Miriam, 16; and Avia, 4.