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A Tu Beav Memorial to love

By ILANA SRAIER-PHILLIPS

 

   On Tu Be'av, the young and young at heart, climb the steep ascent to Nimrod Lookout in picturesque Rosh Pina. From its prime location at the town's highest point, this romantic spot commands sweeping views of the Golan Mountains, the Hula Valley, Mount Hermon and the entire Galilee Panhandle – a seemingly untarnished picture of tranquility.

   But the splendor of this uplifting respite pales in comparison to the compelling story of the man who established it.

   Hezi Segev, Rosh Pina's resident storyteller, delights visitors to the old town, accompanying them around its cobbled streets as he slowly peels back the

Hezi Segev

Hezi Segev

layersof history that lie hidden beneath the stone buildings. Listeners are captivated by his intriguing stories of the figures that resided in the area during the Turkish and British periods, as well as those residing here today.

   Segev's audiences laugh engagingly at his anecdotes, gazing unsuspectingly at this unassuming man whose weathered face bears little trace of the hardship

he has endured. The tour usually culminates at Nimrod Lookout, where Segev stuns visitors with his personal account of the young soldier in whose memory this inspiring memorial was built – his son, Nimrod Segev, who fell in the Second Lebanon War at the age of 28.

   It was Tisha Be'av, 2006. On this fast of heavy Jewish mourning, Nimrod received his call-up notice, ordering him to report immediately to his unit. Leaving his senior position at Microsoft Israel, he dutifully made his way to the North to join the war in Lebanon.

   On arrival, Nimrod was informed that because of his civilian job, he had been moved from his position as a tank commander to serve in the main computer unit of the army. Driven by a strong desire to serve the nation, Nimrod adamantly refused to leave, so his battalion commander put him in charge of a tank team and they braced themselves for entry into Lebanon.

   The scorching August heat, coupled with a lack of food and water, compelled Nimrod to call his father, asking for supplies for himself and his soldiers. Segev immediately stacked his car with four cartons of falafel portions, as well as a generous supply of bottled water. He delivered the goods to Nimrod, advising him to reserve some bottles in the tank for entering the war zone.

   "You think so, Dad?" Nimrod laughed, ripping open the plastic wrapping and casually throwing bottles of water to the thirsty soldiers.

   Before the day had reached its close, a phone call from the hospital in Safed confirmed Segev's concerns. Nimrod had been admitted to the emergency room, suffering from severe dehydration. Segev immediately abandoned everything and rushed to the hospital, where he found his son lying in bed, unaware of his surroundings, an infusion in his arm. With Nimrod's gradual recovery came the disclosure of a startling premonition.

   "Dad, I have a feeling that I'll return from this war in a coffin," he confessed. "My tank will be hit by a side bomb that will break the chain of the tank, and the tank can't move on one chain, so it will stop and … become a huge target.

   "They'll hit the tank with an anti-tank missile … leaving the crew no chance.

   "When you get the coffin, I won't be there," he ended.

   Bewildered with fear at the sound of these words, Segev implored his son to turn off his mobile phone and disappear, preventing the army from tracing him.

   "Dad, that's not the way you brought me up," Nimrod responded.

    As he relives the past, Segev admits, "Here was my son lying hopelessly in the hospital and as a father, I would have done everything to protect him. For myself, I wanted my son to be alive. But on the other hand I knew that even if I chained him to the bed, he would never forgive me for not letting him be with his fighters."

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Nimrod Segev

   So the following day, Nimrod was discharged and returned to his base to join the war.

   Four days later, shortly before midnight on Tu Be'av, Segev was woken up by the dreaded sound of knocking on the door. His wife, Iris, was taking a shower.

   "There were rumors that someone from Rosh Pina had been killed," he explains, "but … I wasn't worried about it because Nimrod was married and he lived with his wife and his child in Ramat Gan."

   Nevertheless, at the sound of the knocking, Segev jumped from his bed, hastily threw something on and raced to the ground floor to open the front door. He was greeted by six officers, the town mayor, the family's doctor and some neighbors, curious as to the cause of all the movement near the house. Segev recalls his desperate attempt to escape reality.

   "I shut the door as if by shutting the door I had solved the problem. It doesn't work. They went inside and I ran into the kitchen just to run from the problem … I remember falling on my knees and begging them: 'Please, tell me that he's wounded … something.'"

   But the only response was the aching silence that engulfed the air.

   The following day, Nimrod's battalion commander arrived from Lebanon to pay his respects. The disheveled officer sorrowfully relayed the events surrounding Nimrod's death, and his account was word for word as Nimrod had predicted in the hospital.

   After the war, Segev approached the municipality, requesting a site on which to build a memorial in honor of Nimrod. The chosen place was near an old fig tree –Nimrod's treehouse, where he spent many happy hours during his childhood. He would often ride his horse up the hill, carrying his guitar or saxophone on his back, and sit under the tree writing songs.

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Nimrod Lookout

   A barrage of generous donations enabled Segev to build the Lookout – a paved terrace surrounded by a pastoral garden. Optical binoculars zoom in on th impressive view and an audio guide provides an informative explanation of the landscape. At the press of a button, the voices of Nimrod's mother and brother bring to life the rich history of Rosh Pina and the moving story of Nimrod. It is here, in this unwarlike setting celebrating Nimrod's life and his love of nature, that Segev feels his son's presence – not in the military cemetery where his grave lies.

   Following Nimrod's death, Segev collapsed into a deep depression. But ironically, these same tragic circumstances furnished him with the strength to make a life-changing decision. A quest to attain a deeper understanding of where everything began led him to abandon his office job in favor of studying Islam, Judaism and Christianity. His studies unearthed a newly discovered passion, and he subsequently became a tour guide.

Nimrod Lookout

   "Before, when I was a human resources manager, I did what I had to do – and now I'm doing what I want to do," Segev states. "Life isn't easy, but we try our best to combine life and death. But this is the reality of Israel; this is the real reality – not Channel 10, not Channel 2."

   On Tu Be'av, Nimrod left behind two "irises" – his beloved mother, Iris, and the love of his life, fondly known by the family as "Little Iris."

   "Little Iris" wrote: "It is always said about the dead that they were 'the best in the world,' but my Nimrod really was the best in the world. He left the world on the day of love, and left me with a love that would never end."

   For information about tours, contact Hezi Segev at (050) 532-5732 or  info@roshpina.org.