By Leah Garber
Like most soldiers who serve at least three years of intense, dangerous, and stressful mandatory army service, 25-year-old Lieutenant Yuval Zilber, a reservist soldier in an infantry battalion, dreamed of his big post-army service trip.
He packed a large backpack and set off to travel through landscapes that were far, both mentally and physically, from the ones he saw during his service. He “cleared his head,” got a change of scenery, chilled, and relaxed before his planned return home to start his studies.
As soon as the war broke, Yuval didn’t hesitate to cut short his trip and returned home to join fellow soldiers in the war against Hamas. Yesterday Yuval was killed by a Hamas sniper in the fighting in Gaza. Yuval won’t be able to share photos and stories from the trip with his family; he probably didn’t even have time to unpack his bag. The chair awaiting him at the university will remain empty, like the hearts of all those who knew and loved him.
Lt. Col. Salman Habaka, is known as “the hero of the Kibbutz Be’eri battle.” On October 7, the first day of the war, he commanded heavy battles against the terrorists who infiltrated Israel and killed dozens of them.
Yesterday he led another heroic battle, a battle that got him killed in the fighting in Gaza. Salman, an Israeli Druze wasn’t Jewish, but I can’t imagine anyone more Israeli. He loved his country and risked his life more than once for it. Salman will be buried in a military cemetery in his Druze village in northern Israel—a hero of Israel. Standing by his new grave, his wife and child will know the entire nation bows their heads in respect and gratitude for the supreme heroism of their husband and father.
It’s becoming crowded up there, near the gates of heaven, as more soldiers join the long line of souls whose lives were brutally stolen from them since October 7. Since I wrote yesterday, four more soldiers have been killed, including Elhanan Klein, a soldier in the reserves who was on his way back home for a short visit. Elhanan’s car was fired at, and he was killed not too far from his home. Now, rather than celebrating his return from the army for a short vacation, Elhanan’s three young children and his pregnant wife instead will accompany him on his last journey.
Picture the tears being shed by the angels of peace as they welcome these heroes of Israel and show them the way to eternal rest in heaven. When will these tears turn into healing rain that offers comfort, washes away the pain, wipes the tears?
“There is nothing more complete than a broken heart,” said Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsek. Our one collective heart, broken to fragments, mourns the dead, prays for the wounded, hopes for the missing, embraces the displaced. But what about the 242 hostages? There are no words that can encompass the depth of the concern, pain, and despair we share as we see their pictures and read their stories.
Where there are no words, however, there are sounds—the sound of music. Listen to this heart-shaking song. Take a moment to be part of this moving community event and watch this heartbreaking display, all meant to cry out to the world without words: “We will bring them back home, whatever it takes!”
Israeli news photographer Roi Idan and his wife, Smadar, were murdered in the October 7 massacre. Two of their children, Michael and Amelia, hid in closets and were saved, but 3-year-old Abigail was kidnapped to Gaza with the family’s neighbors.
Can little Abigail hear our vow to bring her back home? And when the day comes, to which arms will she run? Who will comfort her now that mom and dad are gone? Are Roi and Smadar looking after Abigail from heaven, spreading their sheltering wings over her?
Abigail and mom Smadar in happier days.
Nine-year-old Tal Goldstein was kidnapped with his mother, Chen, and his siblings, Gal and Agam. Their father, Nadav, and older sister were murdered in the massacre. Look at Tal’s eyes. Look closely. Who can remain indifferent to the innocence, purity, and beauty of those eyes. What are these eyes seeing right now? What have they been seeing for the past 27 days? How can we not do everything possible to bring Tal back? Sweet Tal, when will your eyes smile again? How long before they adjust to sunlight again after the black Hamas tunnels?
Doron Katz-Asher visited her family on Kibbutz Nir Oz and was kidnapped along with her two daughters, 4½-year-old Raz, and 2½-year-old Aviv, and a few other family members. Could the photographer who took these beautiful pictures amidst the glory of the sea and sand, joy and life, ever have imagine such a painful contrast to the splendor of those days? When will they wear pretty dresses, lick ice cream, and smile again?
Chen, Gal, Agam, Tal, Doron, Raz, Aviv, Abigail, and all the others: We will bring you back home where you belong!
Together, united, we will overcome.
Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.