Niot, you were a hero already on the day you were born with your umbilical cord wound around your neck. From that day on, the Holy One, Blessed be He, never stopped testing you. And you met every test not only like a hero but also with joy. Never in my life have I seen such a calm hero, so happy with his lot.
You had to cope with attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities. For a while you were angry and frustrated, certain that the world was against you. But very gradually, with a lot of help and support from us, from teachers, and from the wonderful professionals who worked with you, you learned to cope and to succeed. You strove and you prevailed, and with success came self-confidence and joy in life. You never blamed anyone, and you never complained—not to other people and not to God. Today we are following in your footsteps by accepting and grappling with your terrible fate.
The great miracle in our family is that each of our four children is blessed with unique talents and virtues. No one of them feels a need to live up to the others. This was especially clear in your relations with your brother. Many younger brothers feel the need to follow in their older brother’s footsteps. But when the time came for you to join the army, you weren’t at all interested in Asor’s unit. You decided to volunteer for the Golani—not because you didn’t have confidence in your abilities, but because you believed that Golani was the place where you could make the greatest contribution.
In times of frustration, when you were small, I would remind you that Moses had also been the third child in his family, and that he had had an older brother and sister who were quite different from him in their talents and personalities. You drew a lot of strength from that. In the Torah reading for the Sabbath of Pesach, which I read yesterday next to you bed in the hospital, that very Moses, the younger brother who suffered from a speech impediment and a difficult childhood, stands before the Holy One, Blessed be He, on the peak of the mountain and asks to see the Glory of God. God answers him: “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex. 33:19).
During those morning prayers, in the Psalms that we read before the service, I searched for verses that would speak to me on that terrible day, when you left us. And I couldn’t find Niot, neither in the words of victory and warfare nor in the praises of the Creator of the mountains and seas. You were a proud soldier, but a solder of brotherhood and companionship, not of victories. I found you in Psalm 150, the brief poem that concludes the words of praise and exaltation, and with those words we take our leave of our joyful hero:
Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his tremendous greatness.
Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.
A Song of David: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Niot, we miss you so much. I have four chambers in my heart, and now you have left one of them empty, but at your behest I will fill it.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.
You brought life to every dry place, and at every difficult time you were tranquil.
He makes my soul lively: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
You were full of life, and had a heart of gold.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me;.
You have left us, but you will always remain with us.
Your rod and Your staff they comfort me
We find comfort in the unwritten testament you left in our souls—a testament of joy in life and love.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.
In your short life, you enriched us and filled us with your unique personality.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Niot, my little brother.
We are still trying to comprehend the disaster that has come over us. It is simply inconceivable that you are gone, and that you will never be here any more.
Master of the Universe, Merciful and Gracious God, how could You have imposed this trial on us?
How is a big brother supposed to cope with the loss of his little brother?
How are sisters supposed to cope with the death of their brother?
How is a father supposed to cope with burying his son?
How is a mother supposed to cope with the death of the fruit of her womb while he is still a young man?
These are my questions to which there are no answer, and apparently no one else can answer them, because what has happened here is something that is impossible to think about in an ordinary and clear way.
Lord of the Universe, you made things hard for Niot all his life.
When he was a child, he was lost in his studies, but he completed his high school graduation exams. As a child he was very angry, but he grew up to be a person who exuded joy and love. As a child, he had no self-confidence, but he grew up to be a courageous soldier.
Niot, you withstood all these trials with heroism. You were a success story.
My Niot, it always seemed that we were so different. That everything that came easily to me was a challenge to you. As if the Holy One had given you worse starting conditions. But that’s all dust in the breeze, a striving after the wind. Because you always had a heart of gold.
You always loved people. The way you made people feel comfortable in your company, the way you made people happy everywhere you went. You knew how to love, to love unconditionally, real love.
My Niot, I’m sorry I didn’t watch over you better, that I wasn’t there for you, that I wasn’t there to save you, little brother. I’m sorry I didn’t give you enough attention recently, and that I thought there were more important things than my relationship with you.
Niot, even though you were my little brother, you were concerned about me, because you knew my weaknesses, and you knew where I was limited. Who will be there now to tell me that I don’t pay enough attention to the people around me? Who will be there now to tell me that he thinks that I insulted someone, and that I wasn’t sensitive enough?
Niot, I promise that I’ll take stock of myself and my soul, and that I’ll remember you by embracing your qualities.
Blessed be the True Judge, beyond the fact that You have given my family many trials, You created a strong and united family, one that will withstand this crisis with strength.
And now he is dead. Why am I fasting? Can I bring him back again? I go to him, and he will not return to me.
The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the Name of the Lord.
One of the last songs you heard was “If there is a Garden of Eden” by Eyal Golan. I listened to the song with you again and again, and without you, in the hospital, and I want to read the lyrics out loud:
Sometimes I run out of words, and my head is just full of pictures and sounds and images.
Sometimes I run out of explanations, and my heart just works for hours to cover the tears.
If there is a Garden of Eden or a hidden place, hug me now and take my wounds away, and take me to it, I’m calling you, Mom.
Nioti, I miss you so much, just to hold the big, warm hand that always gave me strength to go on, not to fall, and even if that hand sometimes slapped me in fun, it was all from love. Who if not you will give me the strength now to go on in life, if it’s possible to call it that.
On the way back from the Seder at night it was just you and I, and I asked you millions of questions about diving and what you do and whether it’s fun and what you have to do in a dangerous situation, and you answered me with a spark in your eye, “Don’t worry, it’s nothing. You just have to be careful. It’s the most fun I ever had in my life. One day you’ll dive, and then you’ll understand how much fun it is, little girl.” It didn’t matter what we were talking about. He would always end it with, “little girl,” and we laughed a little, and then I said to him, “Why, how old are you?’ “I’m twenty.” We both looked at each other, and he said, “Wow, I’m already an old man,” and you patted your chest.
The last thing you said to me was, “Misgav, no funny stuff,” and you left the house with Amos. Amos told me that when you went out you told him, “Man, I don’t know what to do. Misgav is getting herself together and she’s going to a pre-army program, and she’s taking her high school graduation examinations, but she still smokes.” What can I do? I hope I didn’t disappoint you. I hope you knew that I love you, even if I didn’t let you use the computer, and even if I say it now, “Nioti, I love you so much, and I admire you, you were the figure that I always wanted to be, and I still want to be. Give me the strength. Give me your good heart. Give me the love that you always shared. Give me the power.” I’ll finish and say, “Give me another night to sleep with you like when we were little on the same mattress with the giraffes. God, just one night, and then I’ll give him. Please, I beg you. You went away too fast, and I miss you. We didn’t say good by the way we should have. Watch over him up there. He’s an great guy, he’s an angel who was sent to the family and to his friends. He’s probably telling you, “I’ll watch over you, kid.”
Niot, I hope it’s good for you up there. Don’t forget us. And we won’t forget you. That’s for sure. Watch over us, and over me. I have a tendency to do silly things, just like you. So make an effort and watch over me. Be there when I need you in the good times and the bad ones. I just want to say one last sentence. I ask and I plead: Go to your parents and to your brothers and sisters and your children, even if you think they already know it, and tell them how important they are to you, and how much you love them, even if they know it. Do that. I’m so sorry that no one told me to tell him that I loved him so much. Nioti, I love you.
Niot, my Dear Brother,
My hands are shaking… My mind can’t wrap itself around it… I’m sitting and trying to reduce you to a single sheet of paper, and it seems like an impossible task to me! I’m writing to you in my own name, in Barak’s name, and in the name of all the friends you loved so much…
I’m actually listening to a song you loved, and it makes me smile. Before me I see a picture that you just had developed and dedicated to me and to Barak. How we laughed at you for being so sensitive… Oh, how we used to laugh!
Yesterday Barak said that there was never any place where you were where it was sad. That just didn’t happen. The atmosphere was important to you. You always knew how to make people laugh with some silly face or some nonsense that you spouted.
Even when you went through difficult times, and you did, you keep your head high, with the optimism and the joy in life we admired in you. Even in the recent past, when you had every reason in the world to sink into depression, you kept smiling all the time. I remember that you were angry at yourself because the guys were in Gaza, and you were lying around at home. So typical of you…
You had a huge heart. Everybody you spoke to felt that, your concern and the love you had inside you. It was so important to you that we succeed, even more important than your own success… The way you pushed Barak into the navy commandos, the way you drove me crazy, so that I’d call up Asor and get his advice. You always said that it was more important to you than it was to us.
Among the three of us, I admit that for me and Barak it was harder to express our feelings, and you were the one who always hugged and kissed… You would always say, “You know that I love you, right?” And you wouldn’t leave me alone until I answered you.
Every once in a while the three of us would get together and, without any advance planning, have a sort of deep talk. Everyone would say whatever he felt like saying, good or bad, and your (unofficial) job in those talks was to hand out compliments and admiration. You were such an influence on us, you gave us a feeling of confidence.
You used some of the goodness in you to offer hospitality and look after the volunteers from abroad. You never missed an opportunity to invite a soldier with no local family for a Shabbat, and sometimes two or three soldiers. Your heart had no boundaries. If we were on a bus or anywhere else and you heard half a word in English, and you’d jump up right away and talk to the guy with your funny English (that got a lot better!). Of course you learned those qualities from your fantastic parents.
I could stand here and talk about you for hours, about all the things we went through, about the places we went to, about our fights, our laughter, our serious conversations. No description of mine could equal even a single second with you.
I remember that crazy weekend when we were little (maybe in fourth grade). We said that if anything happened to one of the three of us, the other two would have no reason to live. Now that we’ve gotten older, we will live, Niot, we will live for you. We will carry on with your ways, whether it’s the Pinati hummus joint on Fridays, your joy in life, or your concern for people. You’re an inseparable part of us, and, the way I know you, that’s exactly what you’d want us to do.
It’s important for me to say here for all of us to you, Haim, Ilana, Mizmor, Asor, and Misgav, we are here for you during this difficult time, we’ll give you strength and you’ll give us strength, because we are one big family.
Nioti, I know that you never heard me say this but I have no doubt that you knew it—I love you, brother.
Dear Watzman Family
Ilana, Haim, Mizmor, Asor, and Misgav
With enormous pain and the beginning of infinite longing, we stand here today and take our leave of a friend and a comrade in arms, our brother Niot!
Niot came to the battalion just a little more than two months ago, and although he only spent a short time with us, he made a huge and noteworthy impression.
A brigade commander doesn’t remember clearly every interview he has with new soldiers in the unit, but I was particularly impressed by my talk with Niot.
I encountered an unassuming young man, full of simple decency, who knew how to see the good side of life, how to speak kindly of people, and how to thank his officers and friends.
But the most outstanding feature I discerned was his determination. In fact, in my conversations with his commanders over the weekend, they all emphasized Niot’s huge determination to succeed.
Niot had huge strengths and rare qualities, but his progress in the army was interrupted by knee injuries that just wouldn’t go away. In the two conversations that we had, he made it clear that he wanted to be a combat soldier and a commander and to do whatever needed to be done to overcome his medical problems. In an effort to give him time to recover, we decided to reassign him to battalion headquarters for a while, where he would not have to engage in physical training. But Niot was unable to stand aside and watch his friends at work, so he kept joining the training exercises anyway.
When we saw that he wasn’t actually resting, we decided that we had no choice but to remove him and send him home, a decision he also accepted with maturity and humility.
Niot’s friends and officers talk much about the his outgoing nature and the special effort he made to help out and support the battalion’s lone soldiers.
In The Light of Repentance, Rabbi Kook wrote: “Good will is everything, and all the talents in the world are merely its filling.”
Niot was full of the will to do good and the determination to overcome every difficulty. That will produced unique and rare talents.
To the Watzman family,
Your dignity is lifegiving, and as we see you as carrying on Niot’s work.
We, his friends and comrades in the regiment, will do our best to take a bit of that life, of his way and values and strength, with us as we continue down his path.
I know that you have difficult days before you, but you should know that we, the soldiers and officers of his regiment, embrace you, parents and siblings, and we see you as an inseparable part of our family, the Gideon Regiment family. We will stand by your side in all you require.
May you know no more sorrow.
Thanks to Jeff Green for the translations