"She first started swimming at five and a half," said her parents, Reona and Dan, who accompanied her to swimming competitions and watched with amazement as she collected more and more medals. They looked on in admiration when she decided to make an unusual dream come true and went to become the first female helicopter flight mechanic, something she had dreamt of doing since she was 17. "Keren wouldn't give up easily," they said. "She always achieved every goal she set."
Tendler was also the only female Air Force member in the Yasur helicopter squadron at the Tel Nof base, and the only female on board the helicopter that carried IDF soldiers deep into Lebanon in August 2006. She was also the only female soldier killed in that war, after a Hezbollah missile struck her helicopter down. She was buried in her hometown of Rehovot.
Throughout her service, Tendler continued to swim. Three times a week she would go to the swimming club in Rehovot. It was there, under the water, that she met Naama Mashiach for the first time. "She came one day, in the middle of workout," recalled Mashiach. "I saw her out of the corner of my eye, jumping into the lane next to me. Swimmers look at each other when they're underwater. I watched her swim and straight away, I saw that she was amazing. She just sailed through, floating over the water. In retrospect, it truly represented who Keren was: when things were hard, even disheartening, she simply charged forward."
The underwater bond between the two girls continued outside of it, as well. The fact that Tendler was a 27-year-old reservist and Mashiach a 17-year-old high school student, did not prevent them from becoming good friends. "She broke the ice between us very quickly and made me laugh, because she was a crazy goofball," said Mashiach with a smile. "Conversations with her were always with a touch of amusing sarcasm. She would call me Nam-Nam, and would always notice when I was upset and help me put things in perspective."
Mashiach was inspired by Tendler, inside and outside of the pool. "She pushed me forward both in the water and in my life," said Mashiach. "She always told me, 'Of course you'll succeed.' Every time I was unsure, she encouraged me."
It took Mashiach some time to find out what Tendler did when she was not swimming. "One day, in the locker room after training, Keren said to me, 'I waved you hello as I passed over your house.' That's how I discovered that she was an airborne mechanic. She often came to practice on alert, wearing blue overalls and a radio."
During the Second Lebanon War, Tendler continued to swim, bringing with her overalls and a radio transmitter. "It was Friday," Mashiach recalled, "and Keren came into practice with her gear. I asked her if there was a chance she would be called into Lebanon, and she said yes, with a smile on her face. I asked her why she was smiling, as it was dangerous, and she replied: 'What do you mean? This is what I do my job for.' When we finished practice, I gazed at her. It's hard to explain, but there's a moment that cuts through your soul when a 'what if?' thought crosses your mind. That thought crossed my mind that day, but I pushed it out very quickly."
The next day, Saturday night, Mashiach heard the news on television that Tendler had fallen in Lebanon. "They put a picture of her smiling. I saw her familiar smile, and next to it, it said, 'the late Keren Tendler.' It was inconceivable. I was alone at home and I couldn't process it. I cried inconsolably for hours."
A few days later, Mashiach forced herself to literally jump back in the water, and she has been steadily swimming ever since. Sometimes, when she is reminded of Keren, she cries underwater where no one can see. She continued her friend's path when she joined the Air Force herself. "In an officers' course I gave a lecture about Keren, and they asked me to define her in one sentence," she said. "My best answer was that she (was the kind of person who) would charge ahead where the brave would dare not go. Whenever I encountered difficulties, in situations I didn't believe I could succeed, her voice would come back to me and say, 'Stop that nonsense. Come on, who's gonna do it if not you?'"
The animator Yair Harel, himself a native of Rehovot, drew inspiration from the special friendship shared by the two girls. As a medic in the Second Lebanon War, he created an animated film based on their shared story, titled Calm Waters, as part of Beit Avi Chai's Day of Memory, in collaboration with Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynet's Creation of My Life project.
The video, each of whose 2,500 frames was hand-drawn, describes in a gentle, wordless manner the relationship between Tendler and Mashiach as well as Tendler's disappearance in the depths, along with the Yasur helicopter. "As far as I'm concerned, this film is God's work," said Harel. "If I succeed in a three-minute video to slightly contribute to the immortalization of Keren, to give the family a sense that her memory is permeating the consciousness of people, I did my part."
Two weeks ago, we showed the video for the first time to Tendler's parents and her friend, Mashiach. The father, Dan, remained speechless. The mother, Reona, muttered over and over again: "Wonderful ... wonderful ..." while Mashiach beamed. "It's amazing how Yair managed to grasp the connection between us so beautifully," she said. "That's exactly how it felt when I was swimming with Keren. That little bit of concern, that push forward, having her look back to see that everything was alright with me. Thank you."
(Translated and edited by N. Elias)