Yishai and Noam Slotki hy”d (Photo: Meir Lavi)
Brothers in Life, Brothers in Death
On October 7th, brothers Noam and Yishai Slotki were killed as they defended Kibbutz Alumim from the Hamas onslaught. Their parents, Rabbi Shmuel and Tali Slotki, who had served as Torah MiTzion shlichim in Cleveland before returning to Israel, now live in Ramot. Their message of pride, hope, and unity in the face of tragedy has given strength to a nation in mourning.
With Israeli flags in their hands, hundreds of people gathered on the streets of Ramot, Yerushalayim, to pay their respects to Noam and Yishai Slotki on their final journey. The two brothers were killed defending Kibbutz Alumim. On the streets and at their funeral there were “Charedim, dati’im and chilonim, all of whom felt it was important to show their support, to hug our family, to say Am Yisrael Chai,” says Rabbi Shmuel Slotki, the bereaved father.
Rabbi Shmuel and Tali Slotki, parents to seven children, have been married for 33 years. On Simchat Torah, Noam (31) and Yishai (24) were at home in Be’er Sheva, each married with one child. Rabbi Shmuel and Tali were at a Shabbaton for prospective converts in Kfar Etzion, where, on Simchat Torah, they looked on as reserve soldiers received the call to immediately race to the Gaza border. Only after Shabbat did they learn that Noam and Yishai were missing. “Initially, we thought they just weren’t responding, as it was a chaotic situation and their phones were off, but after a while the situation started to become clearer.”
When the sirens began blaring that morning in Be’er Sheva, Noam and Yishai heard from neighbors what was happening near Gaza. Yishai immediately jumped into his reservist gear and headed towards Gaza. A few minutes later, Noam decided to go too, and they met up on the way, getting into the same car. At 10:30, Noam’s nervous wife determined the location of his phone; Noam was outside of Kibbutz Alumim, a religious kibbutz, only a few hundred meters from the Gaza border. During the shiva, the Slotkis would be shown actual CCTV footage documenting their sons’ bravery in battle. “You see them arrive outside the kibbutz and park their car next to six vehicles that are all riddled with bullet holes, one even had been hit by an RPG. They knew full well what they were consciously getting themselves into but knew it’s what they had to do. They got out of the car, advancing towards the enemy with their guns firing.”
Rabbi Slotkihas served as a community rabbi for decades, in Ein HaNatziv and in Ramot, and serves as a reservist for the army Rabbinate. Right after Shabbat, he was called up to the Shura base, where the final chessed shel emet for those killed is performed by the army. “When I saw the sheer numbers of the dead being brought in, it began to dawn on me that it would only be a matter of time before they identified the bodies of Noam and Yishai. I wasn’t yet halachically an onen as I didn’t know for sure they had been killed. Those involved directly with identifying bodies asked me, ‘If we identify one son, but have not yet identified the second son, would you like us to inform you or not?’ On the one hand we do not delay a burial, but on the other hand, we do so if it is for the honor of the deceased. I weighed it up and felt that if it was going to be the situation, the greatest honor for them would be to be buried together. I didn’t know when I was asked the question that this was the actual situation. Noam had been identified early on, but it took a few days until they identified Yishai with certainty. They informed us of the death of both of them, and we buried them together that night on Har Herzl.”
This is not the first time Tali has suffered searing loss. Her brother Tziki was killed in 2002 when an army vehicle overturned. “My parents were very strong when that happened. There had been many mistakes that led to the accident – the driver was going too fast, talking on the phone, and other mistakes. My parents channeled their mourning into action, leaving no stone unturned to make sure that protocols would change, ensuring it would never happen again. My remaining siblings and my parents remained strong and united together. I now know that we, as our own family with our own children, need to find that strength together too.”
“One of the things we are trying to do following this tragedy is to move societal discourse in a different direction,” says Rabbi Slotki. “Many people see the sacrifices of Yishai, Noam and all the other fallen heroes as exemplifying the unity and mutual responsibility that we need as a society, and we want to make this more concrete. We, and many of the families of the fallen, want to see a new social contract in Israel, almost like a second version of the Declaration of Independence, but updated for 2023, that will last us another 75 years. We are seeing remarkable things, from the sacrifice of the fallen to the unity of the hundreds of thousands of reservists. We saw it in the crowd and the diversity of those who came to the funeral and shiva.
“The actions of Yishai and Noam, and all those who fell that day, prevented Hamas from fulfilling their full plan. They had intended to get to Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva, and the brave fallen prevented that. Not only did they save Israel physically from even worse destruction, but their sacrifice and memory can be a turning point for Israeli society. It revealed something deep about Israeli society that had been overlooked for too long, and which we can hopefully maintain long after this war.”
● Based on an article originally published in Makor Rishon. Translated by Rabbi Aron White.