WHEN introducing 2018 Israel Prize recipient Miriam Peretz as guest speaker to audiences at six functions across Sydney’s east and north last week, JNF NSW’s Jerusalem emissary Yossi Eshed made it clear the series was not a fundraiser, but an opportunity to share the spirit of the Israeli people at the deepest level.
Peretz – described by Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett as “the mother of us all” – delivered that in spades.
In 1998, her first-born son, Uriel, was killed in action, aged just 22, while fighting for the IDF against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.
Then in 2010, her son Eliraz, a 32-year-old father of four and commander of a Golani Brigade battalion, was killed during combat inside Gaza.
Five years later, her husband died “of a broken heart”.
Despite this unimaginable loss, the widowed mother of six said she views every morning as a blessing, and has made it her mission to help bereaved Israeli families and injured IDF soldiers to regain hope.
Asked at Kehillat Masada on July 14 how she had the willpower, Peretz said the key was allowing herself to open her soul again, “slowly like a flower”, towards lightness over darkness, and to maintain her faith.
“It was far from an easy journey – when I come to Mount Herzl military cemetery, I’m the mother with the very difficult choice of which child’s grave to hug first,” Peretz said.
“But a moment came when I understood that I did not choose the situation – it came from Hashem – and while I can’t do anything to bring my boys back, I can choose the way forward, and can appreciate that life is not about how many years you live for, but what you do with this gift today.
“I can choose to see not only Hashem’s hand of death, but also Hashem’s hand of life, and be thankful for all the little everyday miracles that happen in life.”
Peretz described Uriel and Eliraz as being “sensitive, modest and observant young men who never wished for war”.
She added, “they have fallen doing their duty for their country, they have fallen so that the children of Israel can go safely to school, and they have fallen not only for us, but also for you, so that Jews can continue to live peacefully here and in every place in the world.”
Peretz was accompanied by her son Elyasaf, who shed light on establishing an organisation in Israel called Our Siblings, to give a voice to the brothers and sisters of IDF soldiers killed in action.