Obama was moved to give tragic mum a hug


THE story of Miriam Peretz has touched the hearts of many and has left a lasting impression on the consciousness of Israel.

Miriam, a mother of six children, lost two sons in the span of 12 years during Israel's battles with Hezbollah and Hamas.

Golani Brigade Reconnaissance Unit soldiers Lt Uriel Peretz, 22, a commander in the Habok'im Harishon Battalion, was fatally wounded by a bomb planted by Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon in 1998.

His brother Eliraz, 32, a major and deputy commander of the brigade's 12th (Barak) Battalion, was killed in an exchange of fire with terrorists in the southern Gaza Strip in 2010.

"One of my kids never got the chance to marry; the other never got to see his kids grow up. And I thought one trial would be enough," 62-year-old Miriam said.

"I never imagined that I would have to bury two sons in a lifetime."

Last month's Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut are extremely difficult times for Miriam, who spoke about her family's losses during the launch of the English translation of her book, Miriam's Song: The Story of Miriam Peretz, at the Begin Centre.

The Hebrew version of the book, published in 2011, was written by Smadar Shir, senior journalist at Yediot Aharonot, and became an Israeli bestseller, with more than 20,000 copies sold.

The English version, includes a foreword by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who describes Miriam as "a woman of valour of the Jewish People".

Miriam, whose husband, Eliezer, died in 2005 at the age of 56 -described how during Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron), around 500 people visit her home in Givat Ze'ev to pay their respects.

But it is on Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut) that Miriam goes to Mount Herzl to visit the graves of her sons.

"On Independence Day, I remember how much we pay for this country," she said. "I clean the graves of my children from all the flowers from the day before, and I speak to them.

"I ask if I can be happy today with the rest of the nation of Israel, and then I go celebrate with my grandchildren.

"I can choose to cry over my destiny, but every morning I wake up and look for the miracles in my life and thank God for the little lights," said Miriam, who has 11 grandchildren.

"The miracle is that I can stand. Every week, I meet soldiers, students and bereaved mothers. I tell them that from every crisis we can grow.

"It is only a matter of choice. This is the message of my book."

Following the death of her first son, Miriam began travelling to schools, military bases and bereaved families of other fallen soldiers throughout Israel to talk about Uriel and deliver motivational speeches.

She did the same after Eliraz was killed in combat, becoming a voice of inspiration for citizens, military officers and political leaders alike.

After Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Miriam said that she visited some 60 families.

"Before I knocked on their doors, I asked God to help me plant some hope in their hearts," she explained.

"I'm not going to waste my life; I am going to give it meaning. What is the significance of my children's deaths if I do not live to help others?

"My choice to live is the victory over the enemy who killed my sons. My children fell so that other children could live here.

"I tell the soldiers to whom I speak that it is a privilege to defend our land. My enemies may have killed my children, but not the spirit of this nation."

Miriam was born in Casablanca, Morocco, and emigrated to Israel with her family in 1964 when she was 10.

A small woman, with red hair and eyes full of warmth, Miriam started her life in Israel in an immigrant camp in Beersheba.

After graduating high school, she went on to study education at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to become a teacher.

She married Eliezer, who was also Moroccan, and the couple first lived in Ofira, in the Sharm el-Sheikh area of southern Sinai, where Uriel and Eliraz spent the early part of their childhood.

After Israel evacuated Sinai in 1982, the Peretz family moved to the Givat Ze'ev community north-west of Jerusalem, where Miriam became the principal of an elementary school.

Among the well-known figures whom Miriam's story has touched is former IDF chief of staff and Golani commander Lt-Gen (res) Gabi Ashkenazi, under whom Uriel and Eliraz served.

"We are familiar with loss and death, but rarely do we cross the same door to the same mother," said Ashkenazi, who is a close friend of Miriam.

"I remember when I first visited the Peretz family in Givat Ze'ev, it was in November 1998. Uriel was in my home unit. I remember we visited this regular house with a united family.

"During my long career of 40 years, I've seen many moments of courage, but I've never seen such a will to continue life from loss as Miriam embodies, the way she channels her loss and pain to inspiration for soldiers and to the entire country.

"Miriam's story is the story of the State of Israel.

"I'm very proud and privileged to know this lady. Few know how much she has helped commanders approach families who have lost loved ones - she became an address for the challenges we deal with in the army."

Miriam is also involved with the Orthodox Union's Mashiv Haruach programme, named after Miriam's sons, which runs inspirational seminars for thousands of IDF soldiers about the history of Zionism.

"Miriam works around the clock," said the executive director of OU Israel, Rabbi Avi Berman.

"Her life is very intense. God gave her a chore that she didn't choose, but she is running with it."

At the book launch, Miriam recalled how when American president Barack Obama visited Israel in 2013, she met him at the state dinner.

"Obama heard my story and gave me a hug," she said. "But I prefer the hugs of my people in the Ben-Yehuda market or on the streets - they truly understand what it means to be an Israeli mother.

"It is easy to sing when you have miracles in your life. But the test of faith is to love God when he takes your two children away.

"My faith in God gives me strength. Sometimes I think that God forgets me, and other times I feel that he hugs me.

"But I never let go of my faith, even though I can't understand how God runs this world.

"Nothing is certain in life. If I could hear my boys say 'ima' [mother] again, that would be enough."

(Jerusalem Post)

© 2016 Jewish Telegraph