An American tourist in Israel during Operation Protective Edge unexpectedly joined hundreds of Israelis mourning slain family members this week after a cousin was killed amid fighting in Gaza.
Rina Cohen Schwarz, a Jewish educator from the United States, is visiting with her husband and three children. But when they go back to New York, they will not be able to leave this summer behind.
Schwarz gained a first-hand appreciation for the existential threats Israel faces during her stay. While here, she lost a family member due to the current conflict.
Schwarz’s cousin Sec. Lt. Yuval Haiman, 21, was one of seven IDF soldiers killed Monday morning battling Hamas on the Israeli side of the border and inside Gaza. He died when an anti-tank missile was fired at IDF forces responding to a terrorist infiltration incident.
Schwarz saw her cousin laid to rest on Mt. Herzl on Tuesday.
“My cousin Na’ama, who is a cousin to both Yuval and me, texted me the bad news,” she told The Times of Israel at a Jerusalem cafe.
As far as Schwarz understands it, Haiman’s parents, who live in Efrat, wanted him buried on Mt. Herzl because of family history. The dead soldier’s great-grandfather was killed in the War of Independence and is buried there.
“It was the first military funeral I had ever attended. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there. It was surreal,” Schwarz said. “The eulogies were gut-wrenching. His mom spoke so strongly, without tears. The hardest one to listen to was from his girlfriend of five years who spoke of how their dreams to build a home and have children together are gone. More and more tears kept running down my face.”
A day later, her sadness had turned to anger. “Why was he killed? Because his unit was trying to destroy a tunnel of terror in order to protect us here,” she said.
“In America we have sewers that take the yuck out. Hamas created a network of sewers to push the yuck in to Israel. When I say yuck, I mean the shit of death.”
Schwarz says that what has happened has changed her. “I have considered myself center-left when it comes to Israeli politics, but now my perspective has changed,” she reflects. “The world is not seeing Israel’s side of this. This has got to stop, and if it means taking extreme measures, I’m not so opposed to that anymore. That’s a huge leap for me.”
She’s also planning to speak up more, especially on social media. “I’ve been a lurker on Facebook. But now, woe to ‘friends’ who will post anti-Israel or anti-IDF comments on their pages,” she warned.
According to Schwarz, this summer in Israel has changed her entire family. “Not only my husband and I, but also our kids, are ready to defend Israel when we are back in the US,” she said.