Since the beginning of the Gaza war, the world has been looking on in amazement at the mobilization of the Israeli public. Over 300,000 have reported for reserve duty and many others are busy volunteering to provide for them while others are helping out on the home front, an inspiring show of unity that has been so sorely lacking over the past year. This includes civilians who didn’t even know the soldiers attending the funerals and paying final respects to those who fell defending the country.
In Maale Adumim on November 5, a civilian honor guard turned out for the family of a Givati Brigade soldier, Staff Sgt. Yonadav Raz Levenstein, 23, who fell in battle in Gaza. Of their own accord, residents came out to express their support; schools participated, bringing the children along; and the city council helped spread the message.
Yonadav’s brother, Elnatan, told Ynet: "As we left the house, the neighbors were waiting there with Israeli flags. We just broke down. It was so emotional. Hundreds of children, adults and elderly lined the streets holding signs and flags. It was so moving and it was so appropriate for the hero Yonadav was. We weren’t expecting anything like this."
“I don’t know if we’ll ever recover from what we’ve been through, but on a national level, it’s just so touching to see everyone coming be with us and give us strength," Elnatan added. "We felt support from the whole community and from the entire city. It was very powerful and gave us strength at possibly the hardest time of our lives, as we bury our little brother."
Elnatan said that Yonadav was killed three years after their father died of cancer. “We lost our father, and now it’s something else. We’re seeing people at the shiva who don’t even know us – just people who heard about Yonadav, his bravery and how he killed terrorists and saved his friends and civilians on October 7. They just came to show their love and give us strength. The mourning isn’t just ours; the mourning is national."
Shani Appelbaum of Ma’ale Adumim participated in the honor guard. “The most important thing is to show support for the families. I think caring and embracing the family is important in any community. Times are extremely tense and anyone, Heaven forbid, can expect a knock on the door. Our community is very strong and unified. The moment something happens, we all immediately pitch in,” Applebaum said.
She added that “it’s not just the guard of honor. Throughout the 30 days of mourning, people show up, prepare food and do anything they can for the family. For me, it’s also about feeling that you’re part of something within the nation. You want to take part, even in the bereavement and unpleasant aspects. It’s very important.”
In Haifa, thousands attended the funeral of Armored Corps officer, Cpt. Benny Weiss (Weisstuch), a resident of the city who fell on November 2 during the fighting in the Gaza Strip. Weiss, who was 22, is survived by his parents, Ina and Eli, and two brothers, Tommy,19, and Danny, 13.
Prior to the funeral, residents of the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood of Tel Aviv, paid their respects by forming a human chain along the family’s street, holding flags and paying their respects as the family made their way to the cemetery.
Yaakov Shitrit, chairman of the Neve Sha'anan neighborhood committee, who was behind the initiative, said of Weiss: "He was born in the neighborhood. We made this gesture to pay our last respects. I've known him since he was a teenager. He could really be described as salt of the earth. A friendly, smart, smiling and humble person, and an outstanding student. He gave his life so that the residents of this neighborhood and the State of Israel could live in safety. This gesture was the least we could do for him."
Liat and Rachel Barkan were two of the neighborhood residents who took part in the human chain. “When we saw the call on social media to honor the family of Cpt. Benny Weiss, we knew we had to join,” they told Ynet. “We felt the need to take part and pay our respects to the soldier and his family. It was a gut feeling. We wanted to express our gratitude for the fact he fell fighting for us and for the hostages. “
Liat and Rachel added: “We were amazed by the number of people who came. If you’re familiar with Neve Sha’anan, you’ll know that Netiv Chen is a long street and the street was full of residents waving flags. People from all religious and political sectors, all ages, soldiers and civilians. The neighborhood committee chairman walked through the neighborhood with a megaphone declaring how proud he was of us and how moved he was by the response of the residents. It was, indeed, very moving and filled with a sense of honor and respect.”
On November 2, thousands attended the funeral of Sgt. Lior Siminovich of Givati's Sabra Battalion who was killed in battle in the northern Gaza Strip. Siminovich, from Herzliya was a graduate of the city’s HaYovel High School. The funeral procession left the family home on Herzog Street, passing through Sokolov Street to the cemetery on Pinsker Street where Lior was buried in the military section.
Thousands lined the route holding Israeli flags, joining the procession to the cemetery. The soldier was eulogized by his parents, friends and other family members, his IDF commander, as well as the city’s mayor, Moshe Fadlon.
“Coming to pay our respects to his memory felt like a duty,” Sharon Levi said. “The flags, the procession, all of us united paying our respects and being here for the family.”
Efraim Cohen also felt it was a duty to stand for Siminovich with an Israeli flag.“
We’re all united and we’re honoring the bereaved family. It’s going on in a lot of places – paying respects and all of us united with the families who’ve suddenly lost their loved ones. Being with them at this difficult hour is a mitzvah.”