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Looking Towards the Future, in the Face of War

The Jerusalem Post
Laura Kelly
August 7, 2014

The only engagement Ilana Sherrington had on her mind was that of the military kind. A marriage proposal by her boyfriend of three years in the midst of a war was the last thing she expected.

The second thing: That a photo of the proposal would go viral, with 1.4 million views.

In the photo, Itai Hoffman, 26, is down on one knee, in his green fatigues and with a gun slung over his back, holding up the ring. Sherrington, 24, also in uniform, stands with her hands clasped over her face in disbelief.

“We saw it first just as her friends, online,” said Michael Dickson, director of Stand- WithUs, who shared the photo on the group's website. Sherrington, born in Israel to English immigrants, is a graduate of the StandWithUs Israel Fellowship program, having traveled the US with other IDF veterans on a speaking tour about life in Israel. With her permission, the photo was posted on the StandWithUs Facebook page. So far, it has garnered over 50,000 likes and over 6,000 shares.

StandWithUS has been running an active social media campaign to alert the world to the nature of the attack Israel faces. From terror tunnels to updates of rocket launches, the news was as grim as life had become. Yet when Dickson saw the photo, he immediately thought that this would be a story to help lift the nation.

Sherrington says the reason she believes the photo became so popular is because it shows the person behind the uniform.

“When you think of soldiers, if you don't come from Israel, you think of combat, you think of military objects,” she said in a phone interview with the Magazine. “You don't think about the people who are behind the uniforms, people just like you and me, who want to get engaged or help their friends get engaged.”

And it was more than a team effort to get Sherrington to the rendezvous point with Hoffman. It was a mission taken on by her commanders, Hoffman's commanders, and both their units working in coordination to pull it off.

With only a few days' planning, Hoffman, with the permission and help of his commander, started plotting. While he had been preparing to propose for a while, he knew it was now or never.

On Tuesday, June 29, Sherrington was approached by a group of soldiers who told her she needed to prepare for a mission. An officer in the Nahal Brigade, she provides combat support and is in charge of soldier welfare. Her brigade had had a rough couple of days, with a lot of soldiers wounded and a few killed. She barely gave herself time to think of much else except her duties.

Packing her bag and getting in a jeep, she was driven towards the beach for “the mission.”

Once there, she was told to ascend a staircase leading to a ruined fortress. At the top of the stairs, she was overcome by what she saw.

“The first thing I thought was, 'I'm so happy to see him!' It really took me a long time to figure out what was going on.”

At this point, the two had only seen each other once in 21 days. Students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where Sherrington studies international relations and Hoffman studies philosophy, political science and economics, they both had their finals interrupted with their call-up to reserves one month earlier.

So as Sherrington reached the top of the stairs on the dune, Hoffman stood waiting, on a red carpet lined with candles that led to two flutes of champagne.

Overcome with excitement, and equally emotionally drained from her service, Sherrington could barely move. Hoffman grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the end of the carpet.

She recounted what Hoffman said to her in that moment. “'I'm doing this because while our enemies sanctify death, with everything going on, we care about life, and we want to go on.'” With that he pulled out the ring, a classic gold band with a simple yet elegant diamond; he had ordered it online, the only way he thought to be able to get a ring in such a short amount of time. “It is exactly what I would have chosen,” Sherrington said.

The decision to post the photo of the proposal on Facebook was not a light one.

“I want people to know that Israeli soldiers, we're talking about people who are students, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers; the last thing we want to do is fight. But, even though that's what we have to do because we have to defend our country, we have solidarity in the sense that with what's going on, we choose life.”

After the proposal, the two were given one day's leave by the army, returning home to celebrate with their families.

Sherrington believes so many people were able to relate to the photo due to its message of strength and life, amid terror attacks and rockets.

The photo of her and Hoffman demonstrates that these soldiers, who are demonized in the international media, are looking towards a peaceful future.

Dickson, from StandWithUS, summed it up: “Kol hakavod [well done], Ilana and Itai; they've opened up their hearts and their engagement to the people of Israel and its supporters around the world, to give them something to cheer up about in what is a very difficult time.” 

Read the original article HERE.

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