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Children of fallen soldiers create memorial forest

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Itongadol.-A group of Israelis whose parents died while serving in the IDF has grown tired of traditional memorials and launched an initiative to plant a forest in memory of the fallen.

"We\’re missing a place that\’s ours, something that has to do with life and not only death," said Boaz Shaham, 45, one of those spearheading the project. His father, Yoram, was killed in the Golan Heights in 1969, while Shaham\’s mother was pregnant. "All the other initiatives involve grief and memorializing, and we want something that also makes us central," he said, "a place where we can hold happy events – picnics and meetings."

IDF "orphans" are entitled to aid and support from the institution, but not for life. "At 30, an IDF orphan loses his rights," said Shaham. "Our gallows humor joke is that they\’ll suddenly knock on our door and say, \’that\’s it you\’re not an orphan anymore\’. But they don’t return our fathers."

Shaham added that memorial services don\’t appeal to members of the group. "My daughter wants to know more and more about her grandfather," said Shaham. "I went to the main ceremony in Kiryat Shaul, but I felt that this festival of death was not really the direction that suited me. We want a place where we can meet, where we can walk with our children and grandchildren – and think not just of the dead but about the living, too."

Oron Kleiman, who came up with the idea for the forest and whose father Elihu was killed in the Sinai in 1978, added: "This is a spontaneous project that developed from adult IDF orphan\’s enormous need for emotional support."

After months of bouncing the idea back and forth, group organizers contacted the Jewish National Fund. A plot of land near Lavie Forest in northern Israel was recently located for the group. The ceremony marking the first plantings is set to occur on January 22, and all IDF orphans and their families are invited.

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