“When you continue traveling in Israel, when you stand at the lookout and look toward Lebanon, your very presence announces that our spirit has not been broken.”
Miriam Peretz’s story is a journey of determination, faith and heartbreaking tragedy, much like the tale of modern Israel. Miriam, raised her family with a love of the Jewish people and a desire to protect their homeland. Miriam’s Song, by Smadar Shir, tells her story, and depicts how one woman experienced unspeakable tragedies yet courageously chose to live a life of hope while inspiring a nation.
Miriam’s oldest son, Uriel, a commander of an IDF Golani Special Forces Unit was fatally wounded by an explosive device planted by Hezbollah terrorists in 1998 at age 22. Despite a law exempting siblings of a fallen soldier from military service, Miriam’s sons opted to serve. A decade later, Miriam lost her second son, Eliraz, a Major in the Golani brigade, in an exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip. He died almost 12 years after he eulogized his older brother with these words: “Sometimes we pay a price for doing the right thing. The price of life.”
Miriam transformed her pain over the loss of young Uriel into education and volunteer service, visiting schools and military bases and sharing his vision of leadership. When Eliraz was killed, Miriam became a national symbol of grief …and resilience, as she strengthened her volunteer efforts.
Following is an excerpt.
Uriel knew that he would be killed. Maybe he didn’t know exactly when it would happen, maybe it was just conjecture, but I’m certain that he knew it was only a matter of time. The Talmud says that forty days before a man’s death, his soul knows it is about to depart from this world. After his last Shabbat at home, Eliraz accompanied Uriel to the Egged station in Jerusalem. Uriel hugged Eliraz and said, “Brother, if something happens to me, dedicate a lookout in my name, a place with a view of Israel. That’s all I want.” Two weeks later, he fell in action.
I hadn’t known that Uriel had said these words to Eliraz. I heard about their last conversation only after the shivah. Eliraz said, “If we want to commemorate Uriel, we already have his last request. He asked for a lookout.”
We consulted with Uriel’s friends and they recommended places visited by Golani special forces patrols. One of them was the Elah (terebinth or pistacia tree) Lookout, located above Moshav Menahemiah. It has a view of Tiberias, the Jordan River, and all of northern Israel.
Four months after Uriel’s death, we met with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and asked for permission to establish a lookout point at Elah Lookout. While we were at the meeting, a Parks Authority representative from Mount Meron Field School came in and said, “I have a proposal for you. On Mount Meron there is a trail called the summit path, and there’s a lookout on that path that’s not named after anyone yet.”
“So what’s this lookout called?” I asked, and he replied, “The temporary name is ‘Lebanon Lookout’…” I recalled that this was what Uriel had called it, and then I answered, “Okay.” Until that day, I had never set foot on that site, or seen it. But the word “Lebanon” won me over, because Uriel had lived and breathed Lebanon, and it was where he died.
After an agreement was reached, we drove there with Uriel’s friends. We saw that it was a delightful trail, nature in all its splendor. The route was thick with vegetation, and when we climbed it, I felt as if I was walking the path of Uriel’s life. We reached the lookout, and my head spun. I saw two sights before me: on one side, southern Lebanon, the place where Uriel was killed, and on the other, the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who had served as an inspiration for Uriel’s faith. From his example, Uriel had drawn the courage to go into Lebanon, with the story of bar Yochai’s battle against the Romans echoing in his mind. It was a battle over Jewish identity and spirit, a battle that has not yet ended.
Then they asked me to write an epitaph, one sentence.
One sentence? I couldn’t think of just one sentence that would express Uriel in a nutshell. To this day, I can’t summarize him in one phrase. How can you encapsulate a child’s life in a few words? But that was the request. I mulled it over for an entire year, until I found the words that were later inscribed on the lookout:
Uriel Peretz – fighter, scout, Torah scholar, lover of the Land of Israel
Why did I decide to begin with “fighter”? Because that’s what he was, long before he went to the army. A fighter in the battle of life. As a little boy, short and weak, he had to fight in order to board the bus. Bigger and tougher kids pushed him. Then he had to fight to get into the premilitary academy and into the Golani elite reconnaissance unit, his highest aspiration.
“Scout” because he was connected to the Land of Israel. He walked on its soil, he absorbed its thorns, and he left the imprint of his boots on it.
“Torah scholar” because the Torah was the wellspring of his life, the inspiration for his belief in the integrity of his path. Beyond studying Torah, his everyday conduct revealed the extent to which he internalized its values.
“Lover of the Land of Israel” because loving the land means loving it to the death. It means giving your life and soul for it.
So the dedication comes full circle, beginning with “fighter” and ending with “lover of the Land of Israel.”
Many tourists visit the lookout.… Often they call me from the site and ask me to tell them about the place and about Uriel. “Open your eyes,” I say. “Take a look around. Lebanon on one side, and on the other, down below, Rabbi Shimon’s tomb, the Gush Halav and Dalton area, and the settlements on the Lebanese border. The people who live in those settlements, my children included, are protected by IDF soldiers. They are protecting the people who get up in the morning and go to work in the fields, and the children walking to kindergarten. The soldiers are the ones who make it possible for them to live a calm, quiet life.”
But mainly I tell them about my son, Uriel. I say that Uriel was small in stature, but that his spirit was very big. I tell them how we chose the place, explain the background behind the dedication, connect them to Uriel, and bring him closer to them. That way he lives on in the travelers’ minds. With every visit, every story, I feel that Uriel lives on – and that I live with him and feel his presence.
I also say, “They tried to break his spirit in Lebanon. But when you continue traveling in Israel, when you stand here at the lookout and look toward Lebanon, your very presence announces that our spirit has not been broken. Each one of you is a continuation of Uriel. Uriel died, but you are his next generation.”