In a coordinated surprise assault on October 6, 1973, coalition forces led by Egypt and Syria attacked the State of Israel. They had picked a day when virtually every Jew in the country was either at home or at synagogue: the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur — the holiest day of the Jewish year.
Due to the sanctity of the day, television and radio stations had ceased their broadcasts. The internet, of course, had not yet been invented. This made it all the more terrifying when Israel’s air raid sirens suddenly started shrieking. As Arab forces advanced into the Golan Heights up north and into the Sinai Peninsula in the south, Israelis feared for themselves and for the soldiers who were defending them.
It took several weeks for the tide to turn, but Israel eventually won the advantage. On October 25, when Egypt and Syria realized that they had lost the Yom Kippur War, a ceasefire was put in place. Nevertheless, for the next six months, sporadic battles continued. When the shells finally stopped flying, more than 2,600 Israeli soldiers had been killed in battle.
Forty-eight years have gone by since the Yom Kippur War came to an end. The families, friends, and comrades at arms of those lost in the war will remember their loved ones forever. The rest of us who experienced the harrowing episode, while still traumatized, may find that the memory of that dark time has begun to fade.
Nearly every forest, park, promenade, and nature reserve in Israel features at least one commemorative monument, or andarta, in Hebrew, to a fallen soldier or entire army unit. Generally made of metal and/or stone, memorials to fallen soldiers are also found in neighborhoods, on streets, at overlooks, along trails and in roundabouts. Often poignant and sometimes unique, they are touching tributes to the heroic men and women who died fighting for this country. And they help us remember.
Below are just a few of the memorials for soldiers killed in the Yom Kippur war, along with the stories of the heroes they’re dedicated to.
The Simha Zeira turbine
When the Yom Kippur war broke out, many of Israel’s reserve soldiers were vacationing or living abroad. Simha Zeira, an officer in the paratroopers, was in Germany studying for his doctorate on moon crystals and headed for a brilliant scientific career. As soon as Zeira heard news of the war, he took immediate leave from the university. Wearing jeans and a windbreaker and holding only a small bag of personal items, he managed with great difficulty to catch the last plane out of Switzerland before Israel’s airports were closed to foreign travel.
In the ensuing chaos, Zeira was unable to reach his unit. Instead, he joined a group of reservists who had flown in from abroad and together they headed for the Golan Heights. On October 12, 1973, as they advanced into Syria, Zeira’s armored personnel carrier was hit. Eight of the nine soldiers inside, including Zeira, were killed.
A memorial overlook dedicated to Zeira is located just north of the entrance to Moshav Alonei Habashan. It consists of a single wind turbine jutting out of a 965-meter (3,166 foot)-tall mountain, and produces enough clean electricity for 100 families.
The knights of Armored Battalion 184
During the Yom Kippur War, Armored Battalion 184 was crucial in blocking the Egyptian advance. On October 15, they participated in operation Abirei HaLev — literally, the Knights of the Heart — charged with crossing the Suez Canal and taking a heavily defended Egyptian position called the Chinese Farm. So fierce was the battle that the Israeli force was repeatedly put out of commission. Still, they fought on with incredible courage. Eighty men from the Battalion were killed in the war; 22 were decorated for acts of bravery.
An unusual monument to the Battalion is found inside the Jewish National Fund’s President’s Forest, off Highway 44.
Andarta of the Fig and the Cedar
Holidays were a cause for much celebration at Kibbutz Beit Hashita in the Jezreel Valley, and the holiday of Rosh Hashanah marking the Jewish new year in September of 1973 was no exception. The settlers, mainly young people in their 20s, danced, sang and drank to their hearts’ content.
When we visited kibbutz resident Yehudith Peled earlier this month, she couldn’t hide her tears as she told us about the pictures taken at the event. One of them, she said, depicted a group of five carefree (and probably intoxicated) young men. Within a few short weeks, she continued, all five would lose their lives in the Yom Kippur War.
So did six other young men from the kibbutz. Indeed, Beit Hashita bears the dubious distinction of losing more young men per capita in the Yom Kippur War than any other town or village in Israel.
Peled remembers how it all began. Yom Kippur, known in English as the Day of Atonement, is traditionally a day of introspection. Every year on that holy day, residents of the kibbutz would get together for some serious soul searching.
That morning in 1973, no sirens were heard at Beit Hashita. But during their gathering, the residents had the uneasy feeling that something was terribly wrong. Rumors began to trickle into Beit Hashita that there were plans afoot to evacuate Kibbutz Merom Golan, a small kibbutz on the Golan Heights, and that the women and children were to be placed in Beit Hashita.
Peled doesn’t remember how kibbutz residents first learned that Israel was under attack — most likely when broadcasts suddenly began on the radio. As the day progressed, every male in the reserves was sent to his unit, and their various kibbutz responsibilities were taken over by teenagers in the 11th and 12th grades. Evacuees from Merom Golan appeared later that night, to remain until the final ceasefire.
One of the 11 kibbutz casualties was Benjamin (Chupa) Chupakevitch, the brother-in-law of Peled’s husband, former MK Moshe Peled. Born in Poland, Chupakevitch was a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Israel with his mother and siblings at the age of 13 in 1951.
Five years later he was drafted into the army and served in the Armored Corps until 1959 with regular stints in the reserves. He and his wife met while both were employed on an Israeli ship, and after a short European jaunt they set up house in Beit Hashita.
When the war began, Chupakevitch’s unit was sent to the Golan Heights in an armored personnel carrier. The group was tasked with bringing supplies to tanks on the Heights and extricating wounded soldiers.
On October 10, Chupa and seven others were inside the carrier, resting under a fig tree, when the vehicle was hit by an explosive shell. All eight of the men were killed.
Six months later, Moshe Peled planted a cedar tree in the huge crater that the rocket had created when it hit. Today known as the Andarta of the Fig and the Cedar, the unforgettable monument boasts the tallest cedar tree — a universal symbol of courage and endurance — in the Golan Heights. There is also a poignant memorial in Kibbutz Beit Hashita to the local soldiers who lost their lives in the war.
Eitan Plonski’s courage under fire
Combat medic Eitan Plonski was called to the northern front as soon as the Yom Kippur War broke out. For over two weeks he treated wounded soldiers with incredible devotion. On October 22, during the second fierce battle for strategic Mount Hermon, he learned that the company’s commander and signal operator had been seriously injured. Although one of the soldiers tried to hold him back, certain that in the face of raging fire he would never make it to his wounded comrades, 21-year-old Plonski forged ahead. Just as he reached the site, Plonski took a direct, and fatal, bullet to the head.
An andarta dedicated to Plonski and three soldiers who fell with him in battle is found on Mount Hermon. Placed there by their families, the monument consists of a huge basalt rock atop a stone platform.
Jacob Rayman, an American immigrant
On the morning of October 6, 1973, five soldiers were sent to guard an unmanned observation post on a volcanic hill called Tel Saki in the southern Golan Heights. Several hours later, Syria launched a massive surprise assault that included an attack on that very hill.
Three armored personnel carriers were dispatched to rescue the beleaguered defenders. In one of them was paratrooper Jacob Rayman, a medic whose family immigrated to Israel from Seattle, Washington, in 1968. Rayman, who had dreamed of becoming a doctor like his dad, was fatally wounded in the rescue attempt.
Overwhelmed with grief, Jacob’s father badgered the IDF until he was finally permitted to spend the rest of the war helping to evacuate wounded soldiers.
Rayman is remembered in a collective monument to the fallen soldiers set up by Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) and the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) next to an overlook in Yitzhak Rabin Park just north of Beit Shemesh, as well as a large memorial at Tel Saki established by the Friendship and Heritage Foundation in 2012.
Purely by chance, while strolling along a path in Jerusalem’s Ramot Park, we also stumbled across a much smaller andarta dedicated solely to Rayman’s memory.
During his mandatory army service prior to the war, Rayman had been stationed at a small agricultural outpost on the Golan Heights. With him was Simhona, the love of his life. Together they herded sheep, watched the storks migrate overhead and planned their future.
In his last letter to Simhona, Rayman wrote: “I can’t wait to see you… I miss you so much… I think about you day and night… and love you with a love that can’t be put into words… wait just a little and we will be together forever… I want to live so badly… I am so lucky… Yours forever, Jacob.”
Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel.
Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups. For more specific directions to any of the monuments, please send an email to email@example.com.
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