In Israel, parents of slain soldiers are pushing for their right to be future grandparents. Critics call it planned orphanhood.
By Ethan Bronner and Chen Shalita | 18 July 2022
BLOOMBERG — The Memorial Day gathering in Kiryat Shmona, like countless others across Israel in early May, begins in the morning at the local military cemetery. Everyone stands in silence as a siren blasts for two minutes. Wreaths are laid, speeches are made, and tears are shed.
Later, about 20 people, young and old, sit around the table in the main room of a public housing apartment in this city near the Lebanese border. They help themselves to pasta, shawarma, cakes, and coffee, and they remember German Rozhkov.
Rozhkov, a Ukrainian immigrant turned soldier, was killed 20 years ago, when he was 25. According to Israeli military authorities and press accounts, he tried to stop two gunmen shooting at motorists at the height of the second Palestinian uprising. Disguised in Israeli army uniforms, the shooters penetrated from Lebanon and opened fire on a main road. Rozhkov, passing by, engaged them in a 30-minute battle. Five Israeli civilians and Rozhkov were slain before the gunmen were killed, too. (The Palestinian Authority hasn’t publicly challenged this account and didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.)
The paraphernalia from Rozhkov’s service forms a shrine in the apartment. His M16 rifle is framed on a wall with pictures of him wearing his green beret. On a desk sit military medals and trophies. Many of the mourners—now leafing through photos, gently mocking their younger selves—knew Rozhkov. They served with him and were his neighbors. His mother, Ludmila, a former teacher in Crimea who lives alone in the apartment, tells the group that their presence is comforting. “An apartment should be filled with children and light,” she says in heavily Russian-accented Hebrew. “Thank you for bringing them.”
One of the children darting among the mourners—sitting on laps and nodding shyly—is 5-year-old Veronica. She never met Rozhkov, of course, but she’s his daughter. Thirty hours after he was killed, his sperm was extracted, preserved in liquid nitrogen, and, 14 years later, used to fertilize the eggs of Irena Akselrod. She didn’t know Rozhkov, but she volunteered to bear and raise his child after meeting Ludmila. “I was moved by her story,” Akselrod says. “She’s alone in Israel, she lost her only son, and had no grandchild.” […]