I recall, like we all do, that dramatic night on Jan. 4, 2006, when we were told that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke, his second in a month. The second stroke was devastating. It subdued Arik at his peak. Sharon was on his way to a third term in office. Instead, he slipped into a coma. His many family and friends hoped for a miracle, but he apparently spent all his miracles on the battlefield.
For eight years we have known that Arik was gone, but nevertheless, when the moment arrived it was still sad and difficult. A part of our history, the army's lore, the stories of bravery that became such a part of our lives, are gone with him. Another member of the nations' generation of giants has departed, leaving us only with our memories and history books. We will tell our grandchildren one day that this hero was not from the fairy tales. There really was this man, with the look and air of a commander of a Roman legion but with the heart and strength of a Jew, who made us all proud.
I remember Arik during the hard times. I remember him arriving in Paris as foreign minister in the twilight of Benjamin Netanyahu's first go around as prime minister. His French counterpart left quickly and didn't stay for a joint press conference, while senior French government officials did not attend the dinner for Sharon arranged by then-Mayor of Paris Jean Tiberi. Arik was like a leper. And when in 2001 he first served as prime minister, the world reacted as if a butcher had taken over the prime minister's office.
Arik the statesman, however, precisely like Arik the general, won the respect even of his rivals. He had it. He was a born leader. He loved making decisions. But did he know how to make good ones? During his army career this was a little easier to measure; in the army there are winners and losers. In politics it is not always clear what constitutes victory or defeat.
Suffice it to say, there are those who liked the Arik who built the Likud and others who liked the Arik who almost destroyed it. Some preferred Arik the hawk while others preferred him as more of a dove, like the one who disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005. And there are those who venerate the hero of the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars, and those who are still incensed over his management of the Lebanon War.
Every Israeli has a part in the success and prosperity of the country -- some more than others. Some contribute in industry and some contribute just by being here. Arik has an enormous part. And even if first graders don't understand why we are sad today -- the older among us will explain to them that our generation had the privilege of living in the shadow of a hero.