Reflections from a Mizrachi Mission to Israel

BY RABBI ELAZAR MUSKIN

Soon after the horror of October 7, the idea of creating rabbinic solidarity missions began to surface. Three weeks into the war, we were on our way.

When we arrived at the ElAl counter at LAX, the Israeli security agent robotically asked, “What is the purpose of your trip?” When we said we were LA rabbis traveling to Israel for a rabbinic mission of support, her demeanor quickly changed, and she demonstratively thanked us for traveling at this perilous time. Throughout our trip, we were greeted with warmth and gratitude. Israelis, no matter their religious inclination or political view, wanted us to know that our presence was deeply appreciated.

The mission began at the Mizrachi office in Jerusalem. There we heard an emotional and inspiring address from Rabbi Doron Perez, head of World Mizrachi. It was Rabbi Perez’s first time at the office since the war began. He described his personal challenge of sending two sons into battle on the first day of the war. His son Yonatan was shot in the leg, but thank G-d, the bullet miraculously did not cause major damage. Yonatan was able to proceed as planned with his wedding the following week.

However, life did not resume as planned for Rabbi Perez’s other son. Daniel and his tank crew fought the terrorists until their tank was captured by Hamas. When the IDF finally recovered the disabled tank, they found one dead soldier inside, without a trace of Daniel or his fellow crew members. For the first two weeks of the war, Daniel was classified as “missing in action.” Eventually, the family was informed by the IDF that they had sufficient evidence to change Daniel’s status from “missing in action” to “captive in Gaza.” This news has given the family renewed hope that Daniel is alive, but at the same time, the terrible pain of having a child in captivity. 

Most moving was hearing how Yonatan was determined to return to battle as soon as possible. Rabbi Perez explained that when a soldier’s sibling is wounded, taken captive, or listed as MIA, the army does not allow the soldier to return to the army without his parents’ written consent.

The last thing a parent in this situation wants is to put another child in harm’s way. Yonatan, however, insisted that his parents allow him to continue serving, arguing that they themselves taught him to always put the needs of the Jewish people above all else. Rabbi Perez and his wife signed the form.

We encountered this very reaction on our visit to Kibbutz Zikim at the Gaza border. Today, the kibbutz residents have been evacuated, except for a skeleton crew overseeing security and the daily milking of the kibbutz cows. We met a very young looking 70-year-old, Kobi, who is considered the hero who saved the kibbutz. On that fateful morning, he awoke to unusual noise outside and immediately summoned his security team to join him in checking the perimeter of the kibbutz. At first, he thought the terrorists driving up in a minibus were IDF soldiers. When they pointed an RPG at him, he quickly realized they were terrorists and instinctively killed four, causing the remainder to retreat. Although it was clear to all that he saved his kibbutz, he refused to take any credit.

When I asked Kobi if he planned to return with his family after the war, he responded, “Yes, this is my home, and I will not abandon it.” He also admitted that he still lives with images in his head of the terrorists trying to penetrate the kibbutz. It will take some time, he told us, before he recovers, but he has every intention to overcome those haunting memories. He is determined to recreate light in the midst of darkness.

In Ofakim, we visited the Ohayun family, who tragically lost their father, Moshe, and an 18-year-old son, Eliad, who were killed on Simchat Torah morning while trying to open the neighborhood shelters that were locked because no one dreamed they would ever be needed. Moshe’s sister took us on a walk near their home, to see exactly where Moshe and Eliad encountered the terrorists.  

Security cameras showed that Moshe was able to kill the leader of the terrorists before he and Eliad were fatally wounded. 44 citizens of Ofakim paid the ultimate price, but without their heroic battle against the terrorists, many more innocent civilians would have been killed.

The Ohayun family is determined to memorialize their father and son as symbols of Israel’s strength. They, and all of Israel, will bring light to illuminate the darkness.

 

Rabbi Elazar Muskin is senior rabbi of Young Israel of Century City in Los Angeles, and a past president of the Rabbinical Council of America.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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