Miriam Peretz is a kind, unassuming woman who lives with her family in the Jerusalem suburb of Givat Zev. In 1998, her firstborn son, Uriel, a soldier in the IDF’s elite Golani Brigades, was killed in an explosion during a military mission in Lebanon. Army rules state that in such an event, to spare the family further pain, the fallen soldier’s brothers are exempt from army duty. However, the other three Peretz boys – Eliraz, Amichai and Elyasaf – all followed in the footsteps and became members of the Golani Brigade, with their parents’ consent.
This year, a few days before Passover, Miriam Peretz was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, when her son Eliraz, the father of four young children, was killed in a Palestinian ambush near the Gaza border. Thousands joined the funeral procession in Jerusalem, and Miriam spoke – on national TV – with great passion about her devotion to God and to the Jewish people. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "We are amazed by the mother's strength, Miriam, the mother of the sons. The entire nation draws strength from her courage.”
Aish.com spoke with Miriam at her home, which – despite the tragedy that struck only two weeks before – maintains an inspiring air of strength and optimism.
Q1: Tell us what happened that day near the Gaza border.
Miriam Peretz: A security fence separates Israel from Gaza, and just a few meters from that fence are agricultural fields belonging to Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha. In the past, Palestinians have tried to place explosives next to the fence, or to tunnel underneath the fence. On Friday, March 26, Eliraz and his unit were patrolling along the fence, when they saw two Palestinians planting bombs. They went to stop them, and one of the Palestinians sprayed bullets in the direction of the soldiers. Eliraz had a hand grenade in his vest, and one of the bullets hit the grenade’s pin, causing it to explode. It was a fluke, but it was God’s way of saying that Eliraz’s time had come.
A few weeks before my first son Uriel was killed, I had a premonition it was going to happen. Even Uriel himself wrote that he expected to be killed. His good friend told him, “If you suspect something, then try to get out of combat duty.” But Uriel told him, “When you are doing the right thing, there is no fear of death.”
Q2: How did you receive the news about Eliraz?
Miriam Peretz: That Friday morning, one of my sons woke up and said, “Ima, last night I had a dream that you were in mourning.” I told him not to pay any attention, that it must have some other meaning.
All of a sudden I hit my head on the edge of a kitchen cabinet.
That Friday afternoon, at exactly 3:06 p.m., I was speaking on the telephone with my daughter. All of a sudden I hit my head on the edge of a kitchen cabinet. I let out a huge scream. I hung up the phone and my children came running to see what happened. I was holding both hands on my head and screaming, “What a blow! I’ve never had a blow like this before!” My son checked my head and said, “Ima, there’s nothing there. No blood, not even a red spot.” I found out later that was the very moment that Eliraz was killed.
But I didn’t know it yet. So there I was, sitting quietly waiting for Shabbat. My neighbor came in and started making small talk. All of a sudden, I said, “Do you have some news about Eliraz?” I suspected that something was wrong. She told me that Eliraz had been injured. So I figured I’d go to the hospital and visit him. Then more people started coming into the house.
At that moment, someone was standing in a particular position in the doorway. It triggered in my mind a flashback, an image that I had seen once before – 12 years earlier – when they came to tell me that Uriel had been killed. Immediately I jumped up, locked all the doors of the house, then locked all the windows and announced, “Nobody is leaving this house, and nobody can come into this house!”
I sat down, and said to everyone there, “Don’t tell me any news. As long as you don’t tell me, Eliraz still alive. But as soon as you tell me, I have lost my son.” (see video below)
Q3: Eliraz advanced to the rank of major, and was known to be a true leader. What motivated him?
Miriam Peretz: Eliraz had an unbounded love for the Jewish people and was committed to giving everything he had. In battle, he was always at the front because officers go first. Last week, one family came and described to me how Eliraz ran through a rain of bullets to retrieve a fellow soldier and carry him out on his back. And there are many such stories.
He left behind a large notebook of letters which sound like they were written by one of the great people of our generation. On the topic of self-sacrifice, he writes: “Self-sacrifice means to give – of your time, your money, your heart, your strength, and if necessary, your very soul. Not to do it once in a while, but every moment of every day.”
Eliraz would always ask himself, “What does God want from me in this world?” Every night before going to sleep, Eliraz would say the Shema Yisrael, and then he would say, “Please, Almighty, use me as Your messenger for whatever You desire.” That is what will be written on his tombstone.
Q4: There are stories of his great kindness as well. Can you share some?
Miriam Peretz: Eliraz had a very unique combination of courage and tenderness. In 2006, Major Roi Klein was killed in Lebanon after jumping on a hand grenade to save his fellow soldiers. Roi and his family were Eliraz’s neighbors. After Roi’s death, Eliraz would take the orphaned children on hikes and to the beach, host them for Shabbat, and teach them Torah.
He was deeply committed to doing kindness for others, and it was always with great humility. Whenever I would call him, he would preface the conversation with: “Ima, please don’t tell me anything that might harm another person.”
He loved his wife and children with all his heart. When he was killed, they found in his pocket pictures that his children had drawn.
When my father would see a rock in the road, he would stop and move it.
A few days ago, my son Elyasaf took Eliraz’s young son for a walk. They were walking along and came across a rock in the road. My grandson turned to Elyasaf and said, “You are not like my father. When my father would see a rock in the road, he would stop and move it, so that nobody else would have any inconvenience or injury from the rock.”
The people of Israel lost one of its best sons. I hope that people will take what Eliraz stood for, and incorporate it into their own lives. Then it will be as though Eliraz lives on. He was righteous and pure. A holy man.
Q5: Why do you think God picked you for this incredible challenge?
Miriam Peretz: We are a simple family. There are many righteous people in the world. Why me? I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like Job, who God tested with all kinds of afflictions.
A few days ago, David Chatuel came to comfort me. In 2004, his entire family – beautiful wife and four young daughters – were shot dead by an Arab attacker. I said to him: “I am jealous of you! You lost everything in one day, and then you moved on and rebuilt your life.” But me – after I lost Uriel, I was in the depth of despair. I had my husband to lean on, and we pulled out of the depths. Eliraz got married and then had a son whom he named Ohr Chadash in memory of Uriel. The bris milah was in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, right back to the source where Abraham is buried. It was spectacular. But just then, at the height of our joy, my husband became ill and died. I figured that God is finished sending me challenges. After all, I am only human!
Eliraz encouraged me to keep going. He stepped in and became like a father to my other children. Two years later my daughter Hadas got married, and Eliraz stood in for my husband and walked her to the chuppah. Once again we were raised to the heights of joy.
But now I’ve lost him, too.
My daughter told me that she imagines a conversation that went on in Heaven. God says to Eliraz, “I need you up here.” Eliraz responds, “But my wife needs me down here.”
God says, “But I need you,” and Eliraz says, “But my children also need me.”
Then God says, “No, I need you here now!” Eliraz says, “My wife and children, perhaps they will manage. But my mother? You can’t do that to her!”
I know that I will never have answers. After Uriel was killed, I realized one thing: A person cannot go about enjoying the good things in life, and then complain to God when things go bad. A person has to believe that God is running this world in all respects. As painful as some things may be, my faith in God only grows stronger. Because I know that whatever God does is for the good, and I accept it with love.
Q6: Your family has grown a lot since Uriel’s death 12 years ago. How are things different this time?
Miriam Peretz: When Uriel was killed, most of my children were young and didn't comprehend the enormity of things. Now that they are older and Eliraz is gone, the pain is much greater.
In the past few weeks I’ve had a lot of visits from the young men who served in the brigade with Uriel. Now they are in their mid-30s, with their own children. It is only this time, with Eliraz, that they can begin to understand what I lost. They have been very supportive and it is a big comfort.
There has been an outpouring of support from all over the country. If we succeeded in uniting the Jewish people for one week, then the death of Eliraz was worth it. One week where arguments cease. One week where people’s hearts are open one to another. One week where strangers come together to bond with the pain of one family.
Q7: For the past 12 years, you’ve had to keep the memory of Uriel alive, and now Eliraz. As a mother, how do you maintain that connection?
Miriam Peretz: When Uriel was killed in 1998, his fellow soldiers brought me a stone from the spot where it happened. This stone was charred totally black from the fire that followed the explosion. Over the years, whenever I felt the memory of Uriel slipping away from me, I would put that stone on my heart.
Whenever I felt the memory of Uriel slipping away from me, I put that stone on my heart.
In 2006, Eliraz was also in Lebanon, and he went back to the spot where Uriel was killed. He took a stone and brought it back to me. This stone was white and clean, and Eliraz told me, “Ima, put away the black stone. You see, the rain has fallen and washed away the blood, and the sun has shined and made that site blossom again.” I understood that this is the story of our family – we are always between the engulfing flames and between the rejuvenation. This, too, is the story of the Jewish people.
Yesterday, the soldiers who served with Eliraz came to visit, and I asked them to bring me a stone from the spot where he was killed. And when, God willing, the Holy Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, I will bring these stones to help form the foundation.