Gilad’s Guitar – Feature in Jerusalem Post Magazine

Gilad’s Guitar – Feature in Jerusalem Post Magazine

Jul 09

The Human Spirit: Gilad’s Guitar

The story of a young IDF soldier’s guitar and how it ended up in the hands of Sandy Cash after his death in the Yom Kippur War.

As one of the more than 17,000 viewers of Sandy Cash’s clever and compelling “Egyptian Revolution Blues” on YouTube, I didn’t pay much attention to the guitar, just how beautifully she played it. I was struck by the wittiness of the lyrics and visuals, Cash’s opera-trained voice and Yale-developed acting talent. In under three minutes, Cash voices our skepticism at the international ebullience over Cairo’s demonstrations.

I learned that Cash lived in Beit Shemesh. When Pessah took my family to nearby Moshav Yishi, Cash visited and, to my surprise and delight, had a guitar slung over her shoulder. On the back porch of the poultry farm turned magnificent Tuscan vacation villa, we enjoyed a private sing-along, children on the grass, the honeysuckle- scented hills dotted with pink and yellow flowers.

Then she played the one about her guitar: “Gilad’s Guitar.”

First finger, second fret Listen to the sound you get He loved me since the day we met I’m Gilad’s guitar He promised me when we were young I’d be her gift to a cherished one Now you are here, his will be done I’m Gilad’s guitar

THE SONG, she explained, is an adaptation of American Jewish songwriter Stuart Kabak’s “Mom’s Guitar,” written after the death of a musician friend and honoring the passing of a guitar from generation to generation.

Gilad Desheh, whose guitar Cash now owns, didn’t get the chance to pass it on. He died in the Yom Kippur War.

Desheh was Cash’s husband’s cousin. Their son is named for him.

Desheh began playing guitar and piano at the age of six in Manhattan. He could play anything he heard once.

Just after his bar mitzva in 1965, he moved with his mother, Sue Desheh, and a Steinway piano from a second- hand shop to Jerusalem. He studied classical piano with teachers his mother found by recommendation.

With his friends at the Rehavia Gymnasia High School and in the Scouts, Desheh played Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Arik Einstein on his guitar. On a rare trip to the US, he and his mother chipped in together on the purchase of a second guitar, a prized Gibson.

Desheh was sociable and popular, with a wry sense of humor, fierce loyalty to his friends and prodigious intelligence.

Over the years in Israel, he kept up correspondence with Henry, the American best friend he’d left behind. Just before he turned 18, Desheh wrote: “… I frankly try to avoid philosophizing and thinking whenever possible, because it brings me nearer to a bitter reality – one of death and total uncertainty not only about the type of future ahead, but uncertainty about the existence of a future. (Try to avoid the phrase ‘…Makes me think I may never see you again’ – it only has one meaning here.) As we grow older the funerals we attend are of people we knew closely – a scoutmaster, an older friend, and the age difference is only two or three years, sometimes less. Rationalizing with possible and maybe even imminent death, of self, and even worse, of close friends, is hard and as I previously said I try to avoid it.

The amount of sick jokes we tell is remarkable, and they get better every day; playing chess on previous graduating class pictures, the black spaces being people who were killed, or class reunions in the local graveyard, so that everyone can be present, etc. etc. etc. Anyway, I’m not so morose all the time, but I figure that if I’m telling about myself, I may as well tell it all.

“Don’t be so sorry about writing so much about Israel – I love this damn place so much, that I even enjoy listening to people tell about how they like it. How about coming here for a year or so?” AS HIS mother’s only son, Desheh could be exempted from serving in an IDF combat unit. With his musical talent, he could serve in the army’s entertainment corps.

But Desheh was determined to go into combat like his friends, one a pilot, another a frogman, the third in an elite infantry unit. To volunteer for a combat unit, he would need his mother to sign a waiver.

“I pleaded with him that he was an only son. He said that was my problem, not his,” she remembered. “He said, ‘This is something I have to do now. If anything happens to one of them, I couldn’t live with myself. I’d get to be 35 and maybe be a bad husband, or a bad father, or a bad driver. I don’t want to have problems because I didn’t do what I had to do.’” She couldn’t sleep. She sought advice. A neighbor’s words resonated with what she’d already realized: “If you raise a child by certain values, and he wants to live by them, what can you say?” Desheh was designated outstanding graduate of his drill sergeant’s course, and after officer training, he was offered a place training future officers. He preferred working with raw recruits. Stationed on the Bar-Lev line in Sinai with his men in Company 10, Armored Battalion 79, he brought his older guitar and played through long nights in the bunkers.

On October 6, 1973, in a surprise attack on Yom Kippur, 100,000 Egyptian soldiers crossed the Suez Canal.

Four hundred and fifty Israeli soldiers strove in vain to stop them. Sue Desheh heard about the attack in New York, where she’d gone for a family wedding. She took the first plane back. In those days, parents could send radio messages to their soldier children. “Gilad, your Mom is back from the States” was broadcast on air. But there was no word from him.

Six weeks after the war began, three figures appeared at the school where she was teaching: a doctor, a social worker and a city representative.

“They told me to sit down,” she said. “I told them I couldn’t sit when they wanted to tell me something about my son.”

He was missing, they said.

A week later, the same threesome was back.

“Again they told me to sit down. I told them I wouldn’t sit when they told me my son was dead.”

Lt. Gilad Desheh of Company 10, Armored Battalion 79, was killed on the first day of the war. He was 21.

“If anyone says that time heals, it isn’t so,” said Sue Desheh the week before Remembrance Day. “I didn’t get over it. I got used to it. When you lose your child, you are operating in a cloud. You go on. You continue, because what did he die for, but to let us live?” SUE DESHEH helped establish a music center for soldiers in Beit Halohem in Afeka. The vintage Steinway is there.

She gave Gilad’s guitar to his girlfriend, but she died young of leukemia and the guitar came back. Desheh offered it to her nephew, for whom Gilad had been a role model, but it was his wife Sandy who would cherish it.

Kabak, who wrote “Mom’s Guitar,” says he’s honored that “Gilad’s Guitar” has evolved from it. He’s hoping to meet Gilad’s mom one day soon.

At this year’s annual gathering of family, friends and fighters of Company 10, Armored Battalion 79, Sandy Cash from Detroit and Beit Shemesh will be singing “Gilad’s Guitar.”

First finger, second string Leave the buzz out, make me ring I know you have a song to sing I’m Gilad’s guitar The songs he loved will never fade, they live in all the dues we paid I sound better the more I’m played And I hope someday before we’re gone You’ll have a child and pass me on You can introduce me saying: This was Gilad’s guitar First finger, second fret Listen to the sound you get I loved him since the day we met I’m Gilad’s guitar In your hands now Oh, I’m Gilad’s guitar Make us proud.

The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel Director of Public Relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.