Remembering One Jewish Hero on Israel’s Memorial Day

May 6, 2022 | Allan Arkush
About the author: Allan Arkush is the senior contributing editor of the Jewish Review of Books and professor of Judaic studies and history at Binghamton University.

On Tuesday, the Jewish state observed Yom ha-Zikaron, the solemn day of remembrance for those who lost their lives in its defense. Allan Arkush uses the occasion to recall a former student, whose letters and diary entries were collected and published in book form:

While Jews around the world all live in the shadow of the Holocaust and may commemorate Yom HaShoah in similar ways, it’s not the same with Yom ha-Zikaron. For Israelis, it is above all a day that rekindles memories of specific individuals who died in Israel’s wars and always evokes a sense of personal loss. For those American Jews who mark it, the day is more likely to bring with it a sense of collective loss. This is only natural, but it is not true without exception. Some of those who lost their lives were very much ours—they were raised among us. And of them, there are a few who have made lasting marks, like Alex Singer, who served as a paratrooper between 1985 and 1987 and died, on his twenty-fifth birthday, fighting terrorists in southern Lebanon.

Born in White Plains, New York, in 1962, Alex first encountered Israel as a youngster, when he spent four years there with his family, including a year at a kibbutz high school. . . . Alex’s love for Israel is present on every page of this book. You see it in the joy he feels when he stumbles across Israeli tourists in England or in Spain. A visit to Israel in the spring of 1983 reminds him how very tired he is of being outside of it and leads him to conclude that he can’t put off aliyah forever.

When he finished [IDF] officers’ training, Alex got a job behind the lines—training the defenders of air-force bases. He relished the perks on those bases, especially the outstanding food, but yearned to do “real work directly involved with defense rather than the difficult and almost purposeless labor” he had been doing. At a shiva in Jerusalem for a friend who had died in an accident, he met a battalion commander in the Givati Brigade who arranged for him to become a platoon commander in the infantry.

It was in this capacity that he arrived in the Golan Heights in June. Only a few months later, in September, he died in a firefight with terrorists.

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