Preparing for Loss, Israeli Military Families Live in Fear of 'Knock on the Door'


More than 370 Israeli soldiers have died since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. Now, with nearly four percent of the country’s population serving, family members brace for news their loved one has been added to that casualty list.

While this concern grows, it’s also an inherent part of Israeli daily life. All Israeli citizens over the age of 18 are required to serve in the military with very few exceptions.

The mandatory service began with the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948, and now, years later, it’s still considered essential to the security of Israel.

“I remember when I was maybe five or six years old, I had a conversation with my father and I asked him, ‘What would I do in the army when it would be my time to go to the army,’ And he then told me an answer that I think many Israelis in different generations heard from their parents. And he told me that he hoped that when I would be 18 and it would be time to go to the army, we wouldn’t need the army anymore,” recalls Aya Elia, an Israeli writer and filmmaker. 

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It was a dream that has yet to become a reality. Elia’s father saw all three of his children join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and one never came home.

“My brother, it was September 1997, and it was a special military mission of the Israeli commando, I guess what you call the Navy SEALs, and there 16 warriors going inside Lebanon. When they walked inside (a) Hezbollah ambush. Eventually that night 11 warriors of that initial 16 were killed. One of them (was) left behind. This is my oldest brother, Itamar. Hezbollah held onto his remains another 10 months,” Elia told CBN News.

As part of her healing process, she recently released a documentary titled Knock on the Door, a phrase Elia says Israelis instantly recognize. 

“This is something we live. We live in the waiting, the horrific waiting, for that knock. Because the death of soldiers is so common, is something I would say inherent, to the Israeli day-to-day life,” she explained.

While all Israeli families must prepare for the news of loss, they aren’t left alone to deal with it.

When Roni Mermelstein’s brother, Harel, died in combat, she recalls the support her family received as one of her most vivid memories. 

“One of the most important things that I remember is that our house was full of people, and friends, and family, and also people that we don’t know came to our house to support the family,” she told CBN News.

Now both Mermelstein and Elia are associated with the Atalef Foundation, an organization that ensures Israeli Navy SEALs and their families receive care in life, and in death.

“The families become part of the community, so they know they have always someone that they can reach (out) to and someone that will embrace the family,” Mermelstein explained.

The foundation’s sister organization, American Friends of Israeli Navy SEALs (AFINS), has raised funds since this current war began, which has gone in part, to provide families of soldiers with multiple needs from housing to childcare. 

And when a soldier falls, they make sure that the feared knock on the door will not be the last one the family receives. 



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