Yonatan and Omer

Just over three years ago I wrote my sister on the fourth anniversary of the death of Yonatan, her eldest son. There is a new dimension to my understanding, as I reread that letter today.

Yonatan didn’t quite make it to his 22nd birthday. He was a member of the Israel Defense Forces. He fell in Lebanon, the victim of an ambush. Although everyone knew the dangers of serving in Lebanon, his death still came as a complete shock. One day he was Yonatan, full of emotions, plans, opinions, the next he was gone, his body buried on a windy hilltop in the Negev. He had been just a kid, still trying on adulthood for size, feeling his way to dealing with responsibility.

When a 21 year-old (or 20 year-old) dies shock comes from the realization of how little time they have had, how little they have left behind. Little remains beyond the now meaningless promise and expectations. Of course, both Yonatan and Omer made a profound impact on those who loved them. They had very real characters of their own, a set of values that touched all who knew them. We grieve for that part of them that had become a part of us, now missing and irreplaceable.

Those who knew Omer understood to varying degrees the danger he was in. Yet, once again, his death also came as a terrible shock. Omer’s danger came not from hostile fire but from the illness that he battled with for so long. That illness won, at a terrible cost to Omer and us. Oh, that we could say that Omer struggled mightily, wrestling the dark angel of mental illness - a Jacob to finally vanquish what was within him. But we can’t. There was no justice, no divine morality, just a youth and adolescent struggling with a malfunctioning brain. The medical professionals, his friends, and his family could not provide the help he needed. He felt, finally, alone in his struggle.

Yonatan lost his life in a struggle that he believed in. While he certainly had no desire to give up his life, he believed that it was his duty to pay the ultimate price, if necessary, to make life safer for others. Omer too had no desire to give up his life. Omer’s suicide was never his goal; it was simply the last option he thought remained, when everything else had failed to stop the pain.

Yonatan and Omer, separated by language and age, now joined in so many ways: grieving friends and family; unrealized potential; the object of that cancerous love that suddenly, irretrievably has no outlet. We honor the fading memories, cling to a belief of what made them special, what they would have become if only they had had an opportunity.

Omer’s death is fresh, not even six weeks. Yonatan died more than seven years ago. I have seen how strong are the feelings still in Yonatan’s family and I shudder.

Mark - May 9, 2004

Omer Shenker, 1983-2004

Copyright 2004-2008, Mark & Naomi Shenker. All rights reserved.