Zehava Shaul, Oron's mother, made an emotional speech at the ceremony, which was also attended by Brig. Gen. Rassan Alian, who was the Golani Brigade commander during the Gaza war.
"This is the third year that we have to celebrate Oron's birthday without him," Zehaba Shaul said. "Every day that passes without my darling son is a long day that wouldn't end. The nights are sleepless, the holidays and Shabbat dinners include an empty chair. Oron, you are always on my mind and these thoughts are difficult ones. Are you warm, are you cold, are you eating, are you drinking, do you have comfortable sleeping conditions? All of this bothers me, every day, all day."
Zehava also spoke about the time that has passed since her son was killed. "It's been 898 days since Oron was kidnapped. A cursed day when we were told Oron was killed inside an APC along with his friends. Several hours later, Hamas announced that it was holding the soldier Oron Shaul. Since then, we've been living in a nightmare of uncertainty, fears, hopes and disappointments," she said.
She raised the option her son might still be alive. "Five days after the kidnapping, on Friday afternoon, an hour before Shabbat began, the Chief Military Rabbi, Rafi Peretz, came to our home and told us that he, along with the rabbinical court, decided to declare Oron a fallen soldier whose place of burial is unknown and that we need to sit shiva (the Jewish period of mourning). We asked for explanations, but the answer we got was that the rabbi had to return home before Shabbat. We've been waiting for answers since," she said.
"Why was Peretz in such a rush to declare Oron dead, in contradiction with all procedures and Jewish law? Does Judaism permit declaring the death of a soldier who is known to have been captured alive?
"I still have hope that my son will return to me. The duty to return my son to me is that of the Israeli government and the IDF. They sent him to a war that lasted 51 days and it is their responsibility to bring him home. I believe they will fulfill this obligation," she added.
Zehava Shaul sent her condolences to the family of Maj. Hagai Ben-Ari, who was wounded during Operation Protective Edge and succumbed to his injuries earlier this week.
"Rabbi Peretz, you must know Oron's injury was no different than that of the late Hagai or of hundreds of other soldiers who suffered similar injuries. I hope you can sleep well at night, because I don't."
One person whose absence at the ceremony stood out was Oron's father, Herzl Shaul, who passed away in September after losing his battle with cancer.
"He wanted to see Oron return home as well, but he didn't have enough strength, and he left us a few months ago," Zehava said of her husband. "He stays with me in my dreams, giving me strength, hope and faith. His last words to me were: 'please don't let go, do everything to bring Oron home.' These words won't leave me, they're etched into my heart, and I intend to carry out his will.
Zehava Shaul also had a message for IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. "Mr. Chief of Staff, you know my family and I value, respect and appreciate you very much as a commander. Oron didn't cross the border by accident. He's an excelling Golani soldier who asked to be the first to go into Gaza and protect the homeland. He may not be everyone's child. He's the child of Zionist parents who were born in Israel to Iraqi immigrants, who taught him there is nowhere else in the world for the Jewish people except for the land of Israel, and that it must be protected for the generations to come. The values of friendship and comradeship between the IDF's soldiers and commanders are what sets it apart from any other army in the world and are what gives parents the peace of mind and confidence to send their children to serve in the IDF."
Zehava concluded with a message to her son. "Oron, my love. You should know there isn't a day that I don't fight to have you back in my arms. You should know that the people of Israel are embracing us and strengthening us every day and won't let us give up.
"Every day I read the text message you sent me for my birthday, five months before you went to war in Gaza, in which you wrote: 'To the best mother in the world. I wish you a lot of happiness, wealth, joy, love, success, fun, peace, quiet, and most importantly health. Thanks for everything, for the education you gave me, for the love I get from you to this very day. Thank you, I am where I am today thanks to you.'
"Oron, my love. I'm sorry about where you are today. I'll do the best I can to get you out of there. Happy birthday, my beloved son. I love you and look forward to your return as soon as possible."