This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we will be shar­ing in the com­ing days from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives. 

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, JBI is record­ing writ­ers’ first-hand accounts, as shared with and pub­lished by JBC, to increase the acces­si­bil­i­ty of these accounts for indi­vid­u­als who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled. 

I got the word a lit­tle after sev­en last night (Octo­ber 10, 2023). There was going to be a mil­i­tary funer­al where I live, Zichron Yaakov, at eight o’clock in the evening.

The deci­sion made itself; I was going. This despite the fact that I did not know the fall­en sol­dier, Major Roi Chapel, twen­ty-five years old, of the Nahal Brigade. Nor did I know his family.

But I felt com­pelled to pay my last respects to a son of my com­mu­ni­ty who fell in bat­tle to defend Israel.

I decid­ed to walk to the funer­al. I usu­al­ly walk when­ev­er the weath­er is mild, as it was last night. The walk took about twen­ty min­utes and some­where around the mid­point, I start­ed won­der­ing whether I should have tak­en the car. What if there’s a siren? What if rock­ets start falling out of the sky? It would take me pre­cious min­utes to get back home and into the safe room. I might not make it back at all.

By the time I arrived at the ceme­tery, a large crowd had gath­ered by the main gate. Some of them were in uni­form and oth­ers wore t‑shirts bear­ing Major Chapel’s unit’s name and num­ber. Israeli com­bat sol­diers often get such shirts at the end of basic train­ing or an ardu­ous course.

A few of the sol­diers had ban­dages on their arms. One sup­port­ed him­self on crutch­es. I caught snatch­es of their con­ver­sa­tions and learned that these were fresh injuries. They had hap­pened in this cur­rent war.

More than a thou­sand peo­ple walked into the ceme­tery and down the paved path toward the mil­i­tary sec­tion. Young and old, sec­u­lar and reli­gious. We were a cross sec­tion of Jew­ish society.

I stood well back from the mil­i­tary sec­tion. Those who knew Major Chapel, and no doubt felt his loss more keen­ly, con­gre­gat­ed to the front of the gravesite. An hon­orary guard of sol­diers bear­ing the bright green caps of the Nahal Brigade stood by the grave. With them were offi­cers, a mil­i­tary rab­bi, and Major Chapel’s fam­i­ly and close friends.

Before the funer­al start­ed, the mas­ter of cer­e­mo­ny deliv­ered this warn­ing over the sound sys­tem: in case of a siren, lie flat on the ground for ten min­utes and cov­er your head with your arms. I scoped the area imme­di­ate­ly around me, search­ing for the most secure patch of hal­lowed ground on which to lie. There were two tall head­stones three or four feet behind me. In case of a rock­et attack, I decid­ed, I would stretch myself between them. They would offer me a mea­sure of protection.

These are the sort of things you think about in Israel these days.

The cer­e­mo­ny began. Major Chapel’s father said the Kad­dish over his grave. And when it end­ed, he added that he hoped he would be the last father to say the Kad­dish over his son. But no one in the crowd believed his wish could stand for long. So far, 171 sol­diers have died in this war, as well as sev­er­al dozen police offi­cers and mem­bers of oth­er secu­ri­ty bod­ies. What the final, awful tal­ly will be at the end of this war, no one can say.

After the Kad­dish came the eulo­gies. We heard from Major Chapel’s moth­er, his sis­ter, his girl­friend, his com­man­der, and his friends, from the army and from before it. The pic­ture they paint­ed was of a nat­ur­al leader – a won­der­ful com­man­der and a young man full of moti­va­tion and love for his country.

You don’t get to be a major in the Israeli infantry any oth­er way.

A recent­ly dis­charged sol­dier who had served with Major Chapel said he was sor­ry he hadn’t been at his side dur­ing the bat­tle that claimed his life. Survivor’s guilt, I thought. An added pain to that of grief.

At some point, I found myself with tears in my eyes. I don’t remem­ber exact­ly when. I thought of this won­der­ful man who held such promise, who had brought love and joy and light into the life of so many peo­ple, and who had made the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice so that Jews could live freely and secure­ly on their land.

In one of the eulo­gies, some­one said, Roi went to bat­tle and did not return. But because of his actions, many oth­ers did.”

Per­haps that knowl­edge brings some com­fort to his fam­i­ly. I hope that it does.

Rest in peace, Major Chapel, and may your fam­i­ly know no more sorrow.

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

Sup­port the work of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and become a mem­ber today.

Jonathan Dun­sky is the author of the Adam Lapid his­tor­i­cal mys­ter­ies series and the stand­alone thriller The Pay­back Girl. Before turn­ing to writ­ing, Jonathan served for four years in the Israeli Defense Forces and worked in the high-tech and Inter­net indus­tries. He resides in Israel with his wife and two sons.