Israel at the moment is in the lovely gap between Purim and Pesach. Last week the country was full of people in fancy dress, after a week of preparation schools were closed for three days, the weather for this Jewish Bank Holiday was excellent, and everyone enjoyed themselves. In a country which faces daily the presence of 21st Century Hamans, Purim has particular resonance.
Pesach, the Festival of Freedom, with its demanding schedule of preparatory work, looms ahead. Stores are beginning to fill with “special offers” – food wine haggadot etc. A sense of excitement affects the younger members of the family. “Where will you be for Leil Haseder – Seder night” (only one in this country) is asked, and notes compared.
This week I went with the Association for the Welfare of Israeli Soldiers to visit the IDF doghandling unit. The dogs are trained to do a number of tasks. Some are able to sniff out explosive material and are on patrol in the West Bank almost nightly. Some are trained to chase and corner suspects, and move silently without barking. Yet others can be sent out to find mines and other explosive devices, for which purpose they carry radio receivers to hear the instructions of their handlers.
As with any army there are casualties. The base has a cemetery in which dogs who have died while in the IDF are buried. Each has a small tombstone bearing his or her name and how they died – on active service, or in the course of an operation. During Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, two of the dogs were killed in the tunnels. Lugo and Riso were brought back and interred in the cemetery, and a small piece of concrete from one of the tunnels was placed over their graves.
I found this deeply moving, that such concern should be shown and in this form, but dogs are Gd’s creation and the army reflects this sensitivity. On the memorial statue at the entrance, showing a soldier and his dog, is a poem that finishes “Walk softly, for here lie soldiers of Israel”. True, very true.