As evening fell over Israel on Thursday, two families began sitting shiva for the sons they lost two years ago.
Their private grief flayed bare earlier in the day as they bade poignant farewells in eulogies replayed without end in hourly news broadcasts.
Thousands packed into the Haifa and Nahariya military cemeteries to pay their final respects to Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev the morning after their bodies were returned to Israel as part of a prisoner exchange deal with Hizbullah that has split public opinion.
Among the first of what will be a sizeable procession of public figures seeking to console the families as they observe the customary seven-day mourning period was President Shimon Peres.
He first traveled to the home of Karnit Goldwasser's parents, where the entire family has gathered for the shiva.
"We are a strong and transcendent people, and though there has been much criticism regarding what has been done, there is a monumental moral depth here," the president told Ehud's widow, parents and brothers.
"True, elsewhere there are celebrations, but if the heavens asked me to which people I would rather belong, the people in mourning over the deaths of two of its soldiers or the people rejoicing gin the return of a craven murderer whose mark of Cain can never be erased, then the answer is clear.
"This is a matter of values, and we are a people of values and not of prices."
Miki (L) and Karnit (R) say goodbye to Udi (Photo: Reuters)
During the meeting, which extended over an hour, the family told Peres: "Over these past two years we have discovered a different nation, wonderful and distinguished, one that embraces and loves. An untold number of Jewish communities and youths all came to our aid, we are moved to tears by the magnitude
love this people is capable of."
Asked about a future deal to secure the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, Peres replied: "I cannot prophesize when it will happen, but everything must be done to bring him home. Is there anyone we can talk to on the other side? These are people whose god is the god of terrorism, but we will do all that can be done. It will never be easy to free prisoners with blood on their hands, we did it this because we wanted our sons home, whether they were alive or dead. This is our moral obligation."
From the Goldwasser's shiva Peres headed to the home of Eldad Regev.
'Will time heal all wounds?'
Sergeant Major (res.) Ehud Goldwasser was brought to rest at the Nahariya Military Cemetery Thursday morning.
Miki Goldwasser eulogized her son: "I won't cry, not now. I stand at attention before you with my eyes lifted towards my people and I ask of them: Stand tall, lift your heads in pride, national pride.
Goldwasser's widow, Karnit, parted from her husband in a long, emotive goodbye.
"Tousch, my love," she said, using her nickname for him, "they say time heals all wounds, but is this really so?... I believed and hoped that the moment would come when I would wake up and could say it had all been just a bad dream, terrible – but just a dream. Will time, Tousch, truly heal all wounds?"
Peres with Eldad Regev's father and brother (Photo: GPO)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was seated in the front row near Karnit and Miki Goldwasser, also eulogized Udi. Speaking to the IDF soldiers present he said, "If any of you, God forbid, should be captured, or should anything worse happen in the fight against the terror organization – the State of Israel, its government, and the IDF will do everything just and possible to bring you home"
Barak also attended the funeral for Sergeant First Class Eldad Regev later in the morning. Turning to the Regev family, Barak stood before Eldad's grave and praised their strength. "You'll never know how proud we are of you. Today we are all with you – an entire nation; proud and grief-stricken.
"I salute you Eldad; rest in peace,' he said.
Eldad's brother Ofer Regev said in his eulogy:"I am proud to belong to (a nation) that loves, and not one
that hates. Every Israeli mother whose son is sent to war should know that the fate of her son is in the hands of dedicated commanders who will work tirelessly for his release."
Shaul Peled, a member of Regev's platoon also eulogized his friend: "Knowing you, you would probably be uncomfortable with the number of people who took part in the campaign for your return home. We all stand here full of longing and sorrow, but we are also glad that you are home with us.
"I wish I could see you for just a few seconds to tell you how much we've missed you," he said.
Hagai Einav and Ahiya Raved contributed to this report