Dedicated to the memory of Binyamin ben Daniel ve’Yehudit — Benji Hillman, h”yd, of blessed memory — a company commander in Golani’s elite Egoz unit who fell in battle in Lebanon ten years ago. It seems like yesterday.
It was a glorious Shabbat morning, but truth be told, if I had been left to my own devices, I might have slept all day. But there at the edge of my bed was Benji with his older sister Abigail, who could not have been more than six, impatiently waiting for me to wake up so I could pad into the kitchen and reach the high cupboard where their mother kept the Shabbos treats. Even then, there was no stopping Benji when he was on a mission.
Many Shabbatot I’d arrive at the Hillman doorstep, often unannounced from the army, with a pile of dirty laundry and a pair of dusty boots, and I always got Benji’s trademark shy smile when I walked in the door.
Most of all I remember his storybook wedding, the handsome young Israeli officer in slacks and a white shirt, dancing with his beautiful bride. They had been going out for so long, many of his friends could not imagine Benji without Ayala; the joy etched into her smile was infectious.
We didn’t know it then but the entire family had a chance not just to see Benji one last time, but to see him at the highest moment of his life. At a wedding, all the different pieces of a person’s life come together — family and friends, army buddies and high school friends, uncles and aunts who bounced him on their knees, and cousins who knew his dreams from their earliest moments. It was a storybook wedding; such a fine picture they cut.
Benji grabbed the mike began to sing, serenading his bride to the amusement of the hundreds of guests gathered around. That image of him, with his shy smile and twinkling eyes, in the middle of the dance floor as everyone, particularly Ayala, his bride, simply reveled in the moment, stayed with me long after the wedding was over.
And then, less than a month later, we got together with the entire family all over again, only this time there was no dancing and smiles, no twinkling eyes and tinkling glasses. Ayala was not smiling in a magnificent white wedding dress, she was broken, in black, Israel’s latest young widow.