Why Israel will win: Soldier who jumped on grenade to save comrades buried with friend as town vows "deaths will not be in vain"
July 27, 2006
Eli mourns two brave sons
by Jenny Merkin
Maj. Ro'i Klein and Lt. Amihai Merhavia of Battalion 51 used to drive together to their Golani Brigade unit from their respective houses in Eli. On Thursday, they were buried in their West Bank settlement, a day after they and six other soldiers were killed in a battle in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail.
Klein, 31, jumped on a grenade during the course of the battle, giving his life to protect his soldiers.
"First he said the 'Shema' prayer and then he jumped on a grenade. That's why some of the soldiers who were with him survived," said Yechiel Leiter, a resident of Eli.
That commitment to leadership was a major source of the respect in which his soldiers held him.
"The one thing I always heard him described as was 'admired.' He had a very powerful personality and he was so modest, quiet, and gentle," said Natanel Elyashiv, Klein's life-long friend.
Klein is survived by his wife and two sons.
Merhavia, 24, was born in Eli, the second of 10 children. He was described as a serious young man who was constantly asking questions about Israeli society, diplomacy, and way of life.
"Amihai was always looking for answers to questions. He never took things for granted," relayed Leiter. "He was a great man with a baby face who accomplished in a short life what many people don't accomplish in a lifetime."
For both men, their time studying Torah and Judaic texts left great impressions on the rest of their lives.
Klein was born in Ra'aanna but moved to Eli after studying in the Bnei David Mechina (preparatory yeshiva) there.
"The most important year in Ro'i's life was his year in mechina and it was there that he got his direction for his whole life," said Elyashiv, also a close friend of Klein.
His priorities - Torah guiding his life and making the Jewish people and the state of Israel an important part of it - led Klein to move to Eli and join the Golani Brigade because he felt that it was the best way to achieve these standards.
"What he learned in mechina was his source of power and motivation and spirit, and he wanted to be close to it like a well that he would draw from," said Elyashiv.
Merhavia, in contrast to his commanding officer, originally never felt any drive to join the Golani Brigade. Merhavia studied at the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem for three years and felt that army service was necessary in order to fulfill his duty to protect the State of Israel. He was perfectly prepared to do his army service in any infantry unit until his close friend, Shmuel Weiss from Eli, who served in the Golani Brigade was killed in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
Both men had their qualms about how the army was used by the government.
About a year ago, at the beginning of his service, Merhavia wrote a letter to the chief of General Staff in which he questioned the wisdom and legitimacy of using the army to remove Jews from Gush Katif. The chief of General Staff responded by issuing an order for Merhavia to be removed from his position as an officer.
"The top officers in Golani were very against [the order] and fought on his behalf. After six months of suspension, he was allowed back," recalled Leiter. "He was loved by his soldiers and he fought so hard to get back into his position because he felt his service was part of his Zionist and ideological duties."
Klein was dissatisfied with how the army dealt with the pullout from Lebanon in 2000. He was part of the last unit to leave.
"After the last soldier was photographed and the army said it was out of Lebanon, Ro'i and his unit were still there doing a stakeout," said Elyashiv.
After a few hours, the army remembered that Klein and his unit were still deep in Lebanon. Klein "thought it was very irresponsible."
"He was distressed about how they left Lebanon. This is particularly sad because Ro'i personally paid the price," said Elyashiv.
Residents of Eli are steadfast in their support of the current war and they believe "it is a war for our survival," stated Leiter. "We will be satisfied with nothing short of complete victory. Then, the deaths of Ro'i and Amihai will not be in vain."
'It was all so very fast - the shooting, the shouting'
The thing that most impressed Capt. Yisrael Friedler, commander of A Company in the Golani Brigade's Battalion 51, during the bloody battle in Bint Jbail on Wednesday, was the way the junior commanders conducted themselves after their officers had been hit by Hizbullah gunfire.
"The moment their officers went down," he told The Jerusalem Post Thursday, "the sergeants took their radios and began reporting in and managing the battle, while at the same time taking charge of evacuating the wounded. It was the height of professionalism," he said.
The firefight began early in the morning when two companies, A and C, began advancing down one of Bint Jbail's streets on parallel routes. Contrary to previous reports, Friedler said, the Hizbullah fighters were not lying in ambush. "Both sides were unaware of each other and it was actually one of our soldiers who saw them first and opened fire."
But the Hizbullah men were in upper stories of buildings and had a commanding view of the IDF force. In the initial firing, 30 members of C Company, a third of its total strength, were hit, as was the battalion's deputy commander, Maj. Roi Klein.
Eight soldiers were killed and 22 were wounded in the battle. "It was all so very fast," remembered Friedler, "the shooting, the shouting, cries of the wounded and the warnings over the radio sets."
Most of the fighting took place at extremely short-range, sometimes only a few meters, with both sides using hand grenades and anti-tank missiles.
Friedler's company began laying down supporting fire to enable the remaining soldiers of C Company to evacuate their wounded while continuing to shoot at the enemy. Two additional Golani companies were rushed in to help with the evacuation.
"The real heroism was that of the stretcher-bearers who went in to the killing zone no less than six times to carry the wounded out to the building where we began treating them," said Friedler.
Hours later, IAF Blackhawk helicopters managed to land under heavy fire and fly the wounded to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
The commanders decided not to risk helicopters to evacuate the dead; they were carried out under cover of darkness by a company from the Golani's Brigade 12.
Five soldiers from A Company were also wounded in the fighting, including Friedler: A bullet went right through his hand. He continued commanding the force and was only evacuated the next day to hospital, where he underwent surgery.
"The battle began to their advantage. They were in a much better position, but we won and killed at least 20 Hizbullah fighters. None of the soldiers panicked, they were professional throughout, and that's our advantage over Hizbullah," Friedler said.
As part of their standard exercises, Golani soldiers practice scenarios where all the commanders and half of the soldiers are wounded, "but nothing can really prepare you for it when it really happens," he said.
A Company was has been in action for the entire last month, ever since the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit at Kerem Shalom on June 25. For two weeks, the company took part in the battalion's offensive against Kassam missile crews near Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, and they were sent north shortly after the battle against Hizbullah began on July 12.
Friedler will be 27 in a week. He grew up in Jerusalem after emigrating from Brazil at the age of 11. Before his army service he studied at the Ma'aleh Gilboa Yeshiva.
His first child is expected to be born in a month's time. His has spent his entire military career in the Golani, mostly with its elite antitank Orev unit, where he was a team commander and the deputy commander of the unit. He took command of A Company nine months ago.The loss of every life diminishes us all but this one was special to our family. Ro'i was commanding officer and very, very good friend for 2 of our grandsons when they served in Golani. May we remember his bra™very
"About major Ro'i Klein Z"L (of blessed memory):
The very least that we can do for someone who sacrificed his own life so heroically, is to tell his story. I t's unclear why the media has kept this story from the eye of the public opinion.
Major Roy Klein Z"L, the IDF Golani assistant battalion commander, from the settlement "Eli" (yes, yes, a settlement), was the most senior rank officer among his fighters in the village of Â "Bint El G'bel" in Lebanon . During battle, he suddenly noticed a hand grenade thrown to his men. Since it was too late already to defend and prevent the deadly hit of the grenade, he immediately jumped over it in such a way his body completely blocked the grenade's blast, thus saving his subordinates. His sacrifice bore the fruit. His troops who were saved told afterwards that he shouted "Sh'ma YIsrael !" (hear oh Israel ), a traditional Jewish prayer which is also usually said before one's death) while he jumped over the grenade.
Ro'i Klein, a true hero in age of an anti-hero admiration, was buried on his 31st birthday .
Friends tell about him that was a very talented saxophonist and a brilliant intellectual, who graduated his engineering studies with distinction. Who traveled with friends in Africa, who had an uproarious laughter, whom all of his acquaintances described him as a gentle, calm guy, whose widow's only wish is her children will be much alike their late father.
Instead of lighting a candle, let his story be heard by forwarding this message. He's deserved much more than this, but that's all we can do"