During next week's Remembrance Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Israelis will once again visit the national memorial sites and salute our fallen heroes. This includes all of them - both the soldiers and their commanders who went to battle but did not return; those who answered the call and served their country in the pursuit of the long battle for peace and security.
But almost all of us have a special place in our hearts for the closest friends we have lost over the years.
As a fighter and a commander for over thirty years, I have unfortunately had my share of bereavement when my commanders, subordinates and comrades have been killed in action. But the death of Lieutenant Nahum (Umi) Goldberg was particularly painful and affected me on a personal level.
Umi was my best friend, and I still remember him as such; I have memories of a dear friend, memories that are mine only, rather than memories shared by the nation as a whole. Those fond memories have been with me since his death in the 1982 Operation Peace for the Galilee (also known as the First Lebanon War); only then did I fully grasp the meaning behind lyricist Haim Hefer's words, "Only those who lost the best of their friends could relate."
I first met Umi during officer's training; we went through the same experiences on our way to becoming IDF officers. We then went on to become instructors at the IDF's main officer's school, Bahad 1, during which our brave friendship became even stronger. It was not long before I had the privilege of learning who this brilliant young man was and how he had completed high school at the age of 17 to pursue a law degree, only to then cut short his studies and join an IDF combat unit.
Despite having all options available to him, I don't believe anyone second guessed his decision to leave university or ask "why did he choose this path?" His unwavering commitment to the State of Israel was abundantly clear to all those around him, as was his willingness to sacrifice everything. Such dedication had characterized him ever since he decided to become a youth counselor at Jerusalem's troubled Musrara neighborhood for an entire year, having only turned 14.
This mindset kept him going during his military service and his volunteer work at the Civil Guard after being discharged. This same commitment was also evident when he married Abigail, about a year before he was called-up for reserve duty to lead a paratroopers company into battle, putting his life on the line. He would eventually lose his life in Lebanon, in the town of Ein Zachlata.
Umi died on June 9, 1982, my 23rd birthday. Many years have passed since that day when someone broke the bitter news to me. I have moved on, both in my life and in my military career, but as for Umi, it is as if he has been frozen in time.
As the IDF's chief of general staff, I look at the soldiers and their commanders who are now on guard. I watch them and see the qualities that were so dominant in Nahum Goldberg, may his memory be blessed. But when I look for my friend, I always go back to that gaping hole in my heart, where I hold the memories of Umi.