Philadelphia native Harriet Levin doesn’t ask herself “what if” it hadn’t happened. Harriet Levin believes in destiny. Her son’s destiny was to die in a war for Israel and become part of this country.
“Mikey did what I always wanted to do and never did. He made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel and enlisted in the IDF (the Israel Defense Forces),” she said. “I always dreamed of doing more for my country, of coming and volunteering.
“After all, it’s the easiest thing live in a big, beautiful house in the United States and to write a check for a pro-Israeli organization every once in a while. I wanted to give a lot more, but I didn’t think I’d give so much, that I’d give my son.”
Harriet Levin saw, last year and from afar, the Lebanese village where her son, Sgt. Michael Levin, 22, was killed by a Hezbollah sniper in 2006.
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She spoke with his friends from the unit who we were with him in his final moments, asking for every detail. She keeps in touch with the medic who tried to save him.
Last Monday night, Harriet Levin participated in a special ceremony for IDF personnel fallen from the Jewish diaspora, organized in Jerusalem by the Jewish Agency for Israel’s MASA project and attended by thousands of current and former members of Jewish Agency diaspora projects.
When Mikey’s good friend, Aaron, spoke at the ceremony of his choice to immigrate to Israel, a decision he made the day after the sergeant was killed, Harriet Levin broke down.
“He succeeded in his life’s mission – Zionism, not in his life, but with his death,” she said.
This is Harriet Levin’s third Memorial Day in Israel.
“I can’t be in the United States on this day,” she said. She added that this year’s ceremony at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, the same place she saw her still-living son receive his red paratrooper’s beret several years ago, was particularly hard.
“Since his birth, I knew he would come to Israel and enlist in the Israel Defense Forces,” she said. “It was his dream, and every visit to Israel just made it stronger.”
During 2001, at the height of the Intifada, he studied in Israel for several months. After witnessing the security situation, he determined not only to enlist, but to go to a combat unit.
Michael Levin followed his dream, enlisted and joined the paratroopers. When the Second Lebanon War broke out, he was visiting family in Philadelphia. He packed his bags and told his family, “I have to go back.”
“After the war, we were told that he was originally assigned to guard in Hebron during the war, but he insisted on joining the fighting, even though the IDF prefers not to send lone soldiers (those with no family in Israel) to the front line,” Harriet said.
Before he left, he was resolute in talking to his father about what would happen if he didn’t make it back from the war. He said he wanted to be buried at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl.
When the family took him to the airport, his twin sister, Dara, said she knew at that moment that it would be the last time she would see him.
She missed his last phone call and only heard his voicemail saying, “It’s crazy what’s happening here, it’s just hell. We’ll talk when it’s over.” They never got to.
On Memorial Day, Harriet can’t escape the memories of Aug. 1, 2006, the day her son died.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she recalled. “I went to work with a feeling that something bad was going to happen. All of a sudden, a representative from the consulate and the congregation’s rabbi arrived and told me that Mikey had been killed. After the first shock had passed, we were asked where we would like him to be buried. We answered immediately – Mount Herzl.”
Harriet was accompanied to the ceremony by a close friend and her son who came with her from the U.S. The former director for new immigrants at the Jewish Agency, considered the “father of the lone soldiers” who was closely acquainted with Mikey, also joined to lend her his support, as did several of her son’s friends from the army.
Harriet returns to Philadelphia next week, but part of her roots will forever be in Plot D, Row 6, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org