The soldiers began to make out their families through the heavy fog. Mothers, fathers, siblings – all excitedly awaiting their climb up the last hill to greet and congratulate the new fighters – the newest members of the elite Yahalom unit, the special operations engineering unit of the IDF (Zahal)’s Combat Engineering Corps.
Among the many visitors was a quiet woman by the name of Leah Hefetz, whose son once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with these soldiers. While Leah knew that she would not see her son in the crowd, she considers herself a part of the Yahalom unit, and had insisted on arriving early that morning.
While her late son’s peers received their prestigious fighter’s pins last Thursday (July 11) – symbolizing their successful completion of a year and four months of intensive training – Leah accepted her son’s pin, a reminder of his motivation to excel in the IDF (Zahal) and to serve in Yahalom.
Leah is the mother of the late Cpl. Joshua (Shuki) Hefetz, who passed away while trying out for the unit in April 2012, due to a health condition.
The late Cpl. Joshua (Shuki) Hefetz
Joshua began his IDF (Zahal) service by serving in an administrative role in the Israel Air Force, before serving as a cook for a period of time. He persistently tried to get into a combat unit – and after he succeeded, he strove to be accepted into an elite unit.
During the last hour of the challenging week of tryouts for Yahalom, Joshua collapsed and passed away as a result of a medical problem.
The Chief Engineering Officer, who personally awarded Joshua’s mother his fighter’s pin, opened his speech at the ceremony by addressing his bereaved mother.
“Joshua’s conviction did not let him rest, even after he had reached Combat Engineering,” he recalled. “He wanted to be among the elite soldiers. He did all he could to reach Yahalom.”
He added that Joshua had excelled during the tryouts, finishing “in the top 20 percent and [showing] excellent combat fitness alongside a very high capacity for teamwork.”
Joshua’s mother also addressed the ceremony.
“Today is the end of the runway, and Joshua is receiving the fighter’s pin just like his friends,” she said tearfully to the crowd, recalling that for a long time Joshua had dreamt of serving in Yahalom.
Leah recounted how, thanks in part to his sense of humor, Joshua made friends everywhere he went.
“During the shiva [mourning period following his passing], so many people whom I had never met visited us. I asked each of them ‘Who are you?’ and each said, ‘I am a good friend of Joshua’s.’ Not just ‘a friend’ – ‘a good friend.’”
Since her son’s passing, Leah has not only become a part of the Yahalom unit, but has also received the attention of the IDF (Zahal)’s General Staff. This past April, she was invited to join the Chief of the General Staff’s delegation to Poland for March of the Living, a march dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust.
Leah Hefetz in Poland with the IDF (Zahal) delegation on March of the Living