Sean Carmeli died in 2014. This article was published on Yom HaZikaron 2021, on Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of the Wars of Israel and Victims of Actions of Terrorism.
Eden Bein is / was the girlfriend of lone soldier Sean Carmeli ז״ל, who was originally from South Padre Island, Texas and fell in battle in Gaza in 2014. She will tell the story of her and Sean and how they met, how she experienced learning about his death, and how she has been coping ever since. Let’s read her story and remember Sean Carmeli, may his memory be blessed.
Written by Eden Bein
This is a story of learning the hard way. I’m sure most can relate. When we’re young, it’s so easy to make decisions in the spur of the moment. For some reason we don’t even consider repercussions or any type of consequence as a result of our actions. I call this the formula for intentional error which for me, is basically a constant cycle of self-sabotage we form a certain addiction to until the cycle is broken. Then, we can become the worst version of ourselves in order to become the best version of ourselves.
BUT – Don’t be fooled, these life occurring mishaps are not meant for regret. Regret is a temporary feeling that we eventually learn, in retrospect (almost exclusively), in order to remind ourselves that we are the product of our own actions. We can either sit in the embarrassing feeling it gives us while we wince at ourselves for something we did or said once or we can laugh at it with friends and family and possibly even learn from it.
The bottom line is that regret is a waste of time.
Mine and yours.
Because if we regret, we disregard any and all learning opportunities that can only be beneficial to us. We also disrespect our past selves along the way.
Today is August 31st, 2020; just a few days after my 26th birthday. I have come a long way since I moved to Israel in 2012. In April-May of 2012, I had just given up on my decision to go to medical school for a military service in the IDF. In August of that same year, I was already out of the house and living in a kibbutz in the far north with about twenty-five 18 to 22-year olds who eventually became some of the closest people to me until this very day. The drafting begins around November and, I can tell you right now, I was in a fog and just going along with what was thrown at me. I was a different person then. I was wild, free, rude, obnoxious, careless…But most importantly, independent. INDEPENDENT. For the first time ever.
My military training began and it was rough considering I decided to draft into a combat position in artillery. I was NOT in any way prepared for this; you could still see the couch shape that my body took on from my luxe life in New York. Fast forward to April 2013, I was well into my advanced training when I was introduced to a Golani soldier named Sean Carmeli, from South Padre Island, Texas. A very good looking American, born to Israeli parents, and who had lived in Israel since he was 16. His American accent was definitely more noticeable than mine. We hit it off immediately. He had this innate nature about him to be there for others at all times, through thick and thin. Always lending a hand with mundane military chores around the base when he didn’t have to. Waking up at 4am to sit with me during my patrol hours, smelling like fresh cologne.
Have you ever met someone who was so selfless? Because I hadn’t, until I met Sean. He loved to love. And that was really all Sean was ever and always about. Loving to love. Loving to care, to hope, to accomplish and to dream.
Things took a turn for the worst after his birthday in May. I had just organized an amazing surprise birthday at his sister’s house in Tel Aviv, his mom and I ordered so much food and snacks, we were just worried that he wouldn’t arrive on time because he was stationed in Mt. Hermon. He had told us that the border in Gaza was heating up and he and his entire brigade had to move from the north all the way to a base on the Gaza Strip. So he did, and also made the birthday and everything was great. Until everything wasn’t and the Gaza Strip was not calming down like it usually does.
Then, three boys went missing.
Operation Brothers Return was out in search of three teenage boys that were picked up by some Arab locals while hitchhiking. They were found, dead, and Operation Protective Edge began in June. Sean and his squad were prepping on the Israeli border along with many other brigades from other foot soldier units. I, at the time, was out of my combat position for two months as a counsellor in Chetz V’ Keshet, a program for American teens who’ve come to tour Israel for the summer.
July 18th Sean calls me to update me that they just got word that they are going into Gaza that night and all soldiers had a few minutes to speak to family and friends beforehand. I cried only a little because it really is a dangerous situation, but to say that I was panicking – no, not at all. I guess I didn’t have enough life experience to understand that this situation required panic.
July 19th at around ten to one in the morning, I suddenly woke up with an intense cold sweat. Earlier during the day, the news had just published an article about the first soldier to be killed in the war. I started to text Sean, at that moment, about how if that soldier was in a relationship, I couldn’t imagine what their partner must be feeling. I wrote to him about how much I love him, but I know he never saw the message.
July 20th, Sunday morning, I’m heading out with our tour groups to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem, and from there, we’d continue the tour to Mount Herzl, an enormous and beautiful graveyard for the thousands of fallen IDF soldiers throughout the history of Israel’s wars.
As the group was finishing up their tour, I waited for them in the courtyard to continue to Mount Herzl, where each of us counselors prepared to tell the stories of the fallen soldiers that were buried there, and I chose Michael Levin. He was an American who had made Aliyah in 2002, insisted upon joining the army and came back from leave in the US when the Second Lebanon War broke out, in 2006. He fell fighting for the country he loved. Sean and I were both lone soldiers, too, and it seemed like the perfect story to share about life as a lone soldier in the IDF. As I waited at the courtyard, calls and texts started coming in.
Dalya, Sean’s mom, called me from Texas in full panic mode, said that Alon, his dad, had been pacing around the house because of this situation and they weren’t calm at all and didn’t know what to do. I told her with total confidence that I believe in Sean, he’s our hero, absolutely nothing can happen to him, and I really believed it. I didn’t say any of it to just calm her down, I really believed I was right.
A few more texts from friends came in asking if I was okay which confused me. One of my best friends called me, crying: “Eden?” I asked her if she was okay and to tell me what happened, and I could hear her fumbling with her phone and hanging up. I didn’t think much of it for some reason.
And then Seth called but I couldn’t understand a word. He was so hysterical that it took a moment for him to say the words: “WhatsApp”, “list”, “dead soldiers”, “Sean too.”
Everything went black-
Little green buttons hitting the floor.
A scream of agony escaped my mouth.
I am 19 and he is 21. Well…was 21.
I had just called Gal, Sean’s sister, and she said to come to Ra’anana. We arrived and there was stress literally in the air we were breathing. The stress was so physical and agonizing, I have a memory of everything moving really fast. An hour passed and an ambulance pulled up at the bottom of the building. Gal was watching them pull in and started to worry about how this is probably related to notifying us about Sean and I said someone in the building probably had a medical emergency.
She was right. Because as the ambulance was pulling in, moments later there was a knock at the door. I’ve never looked at a door with such fear. To be totally honest, I don’t remember even looking at the door. But not only did I look at it, but I opened it.
Another scream of agony escaped me. Then the officers were sitting on the couch with an open binder and a file in it detailing Sean Nissim Carmeli who was shot at ten to one in the morning on July 20th.
I started to lose weight. My dad just happened to be in Israel and then my mom and him switched. I don’t remember most of what happened during that time. I remember my mom being on calls with my officers and whoever she needed to talk to in order to let me stay home as much as possible before going back to base. I stayed home with my mom for about a month until she had to fly back. Looking back, it was a really sad and unfortunate time for me.
And then they turned Sean into an icon. “They” as in the media. Because it was known that Sean was a lone soldier, it started to spread that we as the people of Israel cannot allow him to die alone. I remember arriving at the funeral with my dad and two good friends. I don’t remember the funeral itself, but I can’t forget the feeling of how packed it felt.
There was almost no room to pass through and all I heard was whispers of “oh my god that’s Sean’s girlfriend.”
Who are these people? And how do they know me?
In my head, everything was happening and moving fast at the time. I was forgetting the things I was doing before, during and after the funeral. I was interviewed on so many news outlets, interviews and newspapers and front covers one after another. In retrospect, the pictures and footage of me are so cringy and I don’t really like to look back. I almost want to shake the reporters for not having more remorse with me. I was spewing information to them, I was looking for someone, anyone, to listen to me, and I knew that’s what they wanted. But I didn’t open up like that with my friends and family because I was really worried to be a burden on them. I didn’t want to feel like I had to be taken care of, even though that was the one thing I really and truly wanted.
I had asked my friends a few years ago to tell me stories of what happened after Sean died. They all told me things I’ve never heard of, thought of, or even knew that I really did. Apparently, during the war, there were sirens sounding off in Tel Aviv and I was staying with a friend during that week. An ENTIRE week. Either I was drunk the whole time, which probably did happen, but also my brain just said nope, and the memories of that week were gone just like that.
Another one of those stories was from the funeral. During the ceremony I was staring blankly into the massive hole in the ground almost the entire time. At the end of the funeral, the grave was covered with thousands of flowers and Maccabi Haifa scarves and trinkets, and I started to dig in the dirt and moved all the things people laid on top. Eventually I had to be pulled away. I remember that hole, but nothing more than that.
When I was asked to write this article, I said to myself, this could be my chance to begin my healing. My own healing. Aside from the fact that I have been in therapy for almost six years, it might be time for some real independence. But then I started to fall back in my old habits of avoidance: I don’t want to face it, I don’t want people to know about me, I’m embarrassed of myself, maybe I can think of a good enough excuse to get out of this and so on. But I have to keep reminding myself what my goal is. And my goal is to be more open about grief and its aftermath.
The aftermath is grueling and cruel but there will always be a silver lining. And that silver lining can come out of nowhere at the worst time possible. Initially, that silver lining was Yoav, boyfriend today. In 2015, we met working at a restaurant where he taught me how to make coffee and the rest is history. Yoav has the patience that my troubled soul needed. At around 2015-2016, I was at the peak of my anger issues, I had just gotten into a serious bar fight for the first time in my life where it was me against two women and I “won.”
Anger controlled my every move, my every thought. It was overwhelming how every decision that I made was born out of anger and impatience with the world and how it felt like everything was working against me. I got into that fight about a year into my meeting Yoav. It began when a drunk woman walked towards our table, into Yoav’s face, assuming he was making fun of her. She came nose to nose with him and that was it for me. I pushed her face away and she just started swinging. Her friend joined, so two against one. I was in a total trance of rage to the point where I saw black. After five bartenders and Yoav unsuccessfully trying to separate my grip of the two girls for a while, it was over. I had kneed both of them in their stomachs while choking them. I have never raised my hand to another human, let alone two at a time, other than in military practice. Maybe the army instincts got the better of me, I don’t know. I explained this situation to my therapist, and she explained to me that I’m extremely protective over my friends and family and probably always will be, after not being able “to “save” Sean from dying. That was a turning point in my life.
Not long after that fight, I’ll never forget the moment when Yoav looked me in my eyes and said: “I see this relationship lasting for years but if you keep this anger up, it’ll end.” Anyone could have said those same words to me, but it never rang true until he said it. Suddenly a switch turned on in my head and even though it may not have seemed that way, because I was still quite an angry person, I grew aware of the idea of channeling my anger rather using it to drive me.
Around May/June 2015 when we met, Yoav came to my apartment for the first time, and found this iPad I used to have with lots of photos on it. He came across one photo of Sean and I and asked me, “How do you know Sean Carmeli?”
I blanked. “I… uh…well…he’s…my boyfriend.” Apparently, it wasn’t the first time I would speak of Sean in the present tense.
Meeting someone new is very weird. Especially when the ex is dead (talk about awkward!).
The main issue I ran into is who can I relate to? Am I cheating? Am I betraying Sean and what we promised each other? Am I going to forget him if I meet someone new? All of these thoughts and not one person could relate to me.
An organization called the Girlfriends of Fallen IDF Soldiers Organization under the Ministry of Defense does exist to cater to women like myself. But of course, I was in total denial that I’m associated with them. They added me to a therapy group with other women in the same situation as myself, some even right before their wedding. I had no interest in reaching out to them. I didn’t care about their problems, I only cared about myself. The head of the organization, Rina Kahan, is like everyone’s mother and grandmother. Her determination to help everyone is beyond anything I could have imagined. She has been there for me when I needed to find a therapist, she helped me with so many things that I needed and didn’t have. This is also the first time I’ve ever called Sean my ex and no, it still doesn’t sit well with me (sorry, not sorry).
We all overcome an obstacle of some sort during our time on Earth. Whether you believe that obstacle was planned for you or not, embrace it. The worst thing that I ever could have done was to give up on myself.
I never thought these words would come out of my mouth:
I am happy. I am deserving, I am honored, I am loved, I am all I want to be coming out of this tragedy and more. Our idea of self, identity and truth is solely up to us. With that, we don’t need to carry our burden alone, we have friends and family to help and they want to help. I still work on opening up, I’m very bad at it but each time I do I feel lighter, freer; like a breath of fresh air.
This is where the formula of intentional error comes in. Before and after Sean died, there wasn’t a person that I would meet and wouldn’t ask me if I regretted coming to Israel and leaving my luxurious life in New York behind me considering everything that happened. Putting aside what Israelis think about the United States being some type of utopia, I do not regret where I am today.
I love where I am today. I am honored to be where I am today. I am grateful to be here today.
Many people ask if I was able to move on or let go. I recommend never to fully let go. As horrible as this situation is, death is the one common denominator for us all, poor or rich, black or white, religious or not. Death is here to remind us to be realistic and that the world is a big surprise, just waiting for us to discover it. It’s easier said than done, especially when I am his girlfriend and not his family.
This is part of my history, and it would be a shame to let go, just because it hurts. I will never let go of his meaning of life and what his presence did to the Israeli nation as a whole. Our fears, our pains and regrets are just the building blocks for the better version of ourselves, it just takes time to form and realize that it’s happening. I also don’t think I’ll ever come back to myself, because if I did, I learned nothing. And this applies to everyone in the world that experiences death.
Experiencing someone else’s end, plasters a huge question mark over our heads from that point onward, as our concept of life and death has been totally shaken and not at all in line with what we assumed it was.
There are no tips and tricks to figure out grieving. No shortcuts. Grieving is the most treacherous and deceiving mountain you will ever climb. At the same time, it’s beautiful in that mourning over someone you loved is the highest form of respect towards a fellow human or animal who has just passed. Crying and sobbing over a beautiful life that has ended is quite interesting, in that our brain is trying to grasp the concept of cessation when, simultaneously, it doesn’t make sense to us at all, both happening forcefully. If anything, I hope that there is much more education about death and how it shouldn’t be an unspeakable subject. Life on Earth is a continuous cycle and death calls upon new life. What comes around, must go around. What goes up, must come down.
Six years have passed, and I can tell you now that my silver lining is me.
And your silver lining is you.
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Written by Eden Bein Editor: Leah Grantz Graphic Designer: Eran Luz