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Faces of Israel’s fallen: Soldiers, a peace activist, a family of 5 and more

(JTA) — This week, after a deadly attack by Hamas that has so far claimed the lives of over 900 Israelis, the Jewish world has joined to share in the grief of the mourners and lament the lives cut brutally short. Below are just a fraction of the men and women who were killed since Saturday — some are soldiers, most are civilians, and all helped make up the rich tapestry of the Jewish state.

A peace activist cut down in his prime

Hayim Katsman received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington Jackson School of International Studies in 2021, dedicating his scholarship to understanding the interrelations of religion and politics in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Back home in Israel, he opposed the occupation and refused to cross the Green Line into the West Bank. Recently he ran a student volunteer program to develop a community garden for mothers and children in the Bedouin town of Rahat.

On Saturday, he was murdered by Hamas terrorists in his home in Kibbutz Holit. His sister, Noy, told a Seattle TV station that terrorists had invaded his home, sparing a female neighbor but killing him.

Katsman celebrated his 32nd birthday on Oct. 3. His parents, Daniel and Hannah Katsman, moved to Israel from New York City in 1990. Hayim’s late grandfather was Ben Zion Wacholder, a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

While getting his master’s degree at Ben-Gurion University, Hayim headed the adjunct professors’ union. He taught Hebrew school at a synagogue while living in Seattle.

After working as a car mechanic for many years, he became the gardener of the kibbutz, his mother told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. For a while, he opened a bar on the kibbutz. “He was a vegan and cooked and baked. At the beginning of the pandemic, when making sourdough became popular, he asked me how it felt to have started a trend,” Hannah Katsman said.

Hayim played the bass guitar and held performances as a DJ with a mix of Jewish and Palestinian music.

“He was good-natured, a supportive son, a friend to me and many others,” said his mother, the resource development coordinator at the Center for Women’s Justice. “He lent me his ancient, cherished car during his recent trip to India, although it looked like a wreck it ran smoothly. Once when I was outside replacing the oil, someone drove by and handed me his card, offering to buy it. I didn’t get a chance to tell Hayim. I believe all the cars in the kibbutz were destroyed by the Hamas terrorists.”

A family gone in an instant of brutality

Tamar Kedem Siman Tov, her husband Johnny (Yonatan) Siman Tov and their three children. (Facebook)

In an instant of brutality, an entire family was gone: Tamar Kedem Siman Tov, her husband Johnny (Yonatan) Siman Tov and their three children, 6-year-old twins Shahar and Arbel and their 4-year-old son Omer, were murdered Saturday in Kibbutz Nir Oz on the Gaza border. The family were in their home “safe room” during a barrage of Hamas rockets and texted friends that they were safe, but Hamas gunmen broke in and slaughtered the family.

A community leader who was running to become head of the Eshkol Regional Council, Tamar served as an advisor to the ministry of the interior on regional issues and was the former director of the Bikurim Youth Village for Excellence in Art and Music, a boarding school for at-risk youth.  “We create equal opportunities and enable youth with very little background in art or music, and with academic difficulties, to excel in these areas,” she once told an interviewer. “Those who have the desire and the basic potential are given an opportunity – with the help of the special educational team – to break through the glass ceiling.”

According to Tamar’s Facebook page, she grew up in Jerusalem and received her master’s in management and public policy at Ben-Gurion University. Johnny was an operations manager and wheat farmer on the kibbutz.

“Love Sukkot!” Tamar wrote on Facebook on Thursday, in the middle of the harvest holiday. “I enjoy the campaigning and am moved by the support and sympathy of the people I meet.”

A soldier who sprinted toward danger

Yoav Malayev, 19, with his mother Maya Cohen-Malayev and father Alex Malayev (Courtesy Yonatan Cohen)

Yoav Malayev, 19, was killed in a battle with Hamas terrorists at the Zikim Army base during the opening hours of the war. On Saturday morning, when his emergency squad was called up, he rushed to reinforce the front gate, which he knew was being guarded by just one soldier. According to one account, he encountered 10 terrorists and engaged in “face-to-face” battle. Four of them were killed before he fell.

Yoav lived in Kiryat Ono, with his mother Maya Cohen-Malayev, father Alex Malayev and siblings Talya, Avner and Harel. “My sister, his mother, grew up in both Israel and Canada,” Rabbi Yonatan Cohen of Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley, California, told JTA. “She returned to Israel in her early 20s and is a professor of educational psychology at Bar-Ilan University. His father is a retired colonel from the IDF and said to be the highest-ranking Bucharian Jew in in Israel.”

“Maya raised Yoav, their eldest, with utmost pride,” Rabbi Benjamin Lau, the former senior rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem, wrote in a Facebook post. “He finished AP studies in both psychology and physics. A precise, sensitive, compassionate, and mission-driven individual, brimming with a sense of calling, he completed his officer training with honors and was posted to an armored brigade. Israelis are raising the next generation in this place with lots of faith and hope and with a profound understanding of the long, long road ahead.”

Shielding their son in their final moments

Debbie Shachar Troen Matias and Shlomo Matias (Facebook)

Debbie Shachar Troen Matias, 50, and Shlomo Matias were killed during the attack on Kibbutz Holit. According to their family, the couple were lying on top of and shielding their teenage son, Rotem, who was shot in the abdomen but survived. Debbie was the daughter of Prof. Ilan Troen, emeritus professor of Israel studies at Brandeis and Ben-Gurion Universities.

“My daughter and son-in-law were killed today, but, in their dying, saved [my teenage grandson’s] life,” Ilan Troen, who had recently returned to Israel upon his retirement from Brandeis, told NPR. “They were all together in the secure room. And they covered his body, and he was saved.”

Debbie attended the Berkeley College of Music in Boston and the Rimon School of Music in Tel Aviv, where she met her husband.

“[Deborah and Shlomi] loved music, life, each other, their kids. I would ask [Rotem] to think of the joy that they sought and had in their lives rather than the focus on that day,” Troen told WBZ-TV in Boston.

A father and son, committed to education

Moshe Ohayon and Eliad Ohayon (Facebook)

Moshe Ohayon, 51, above left, of the southern municipality of Ofakim, grew up in Yad Rambam, a moshav in central Israel. As an educator, he was dedicated to bringing Israelis on the economic periphery “into the center of social and economic life in Israel — as a right, not a form of charity — by creating new initiatives to lead the way and helping future social entrepreneurs,” he once said. Ohayon was a graduate of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership and was director of the 929 Project, an effort to encourage people to read the entire Hebrew Bible over a four-year cycle. He was also board chairman of the Shaharit Institute, a nonpartisan think tank working to bridge social and political divides in Israel.

He and his son Eliad Ohayon, above right, a teacher thought to be in his 20s, were listed among those killed in the weekend attacks; Moshe’s wife and Eliad’s mother, Sarit, is among their survivors. There were no further details available.

“Roey was loved by everyone who met him”

Reoy Weiser (Facebook)

Roey Weiser, 21, a first sergeant in the Golani Brigade, died trying to repel the first wave of infiltrators at or near Kerem Shalom, a kibbutz on the border with Gaza. Weiser was the son of Yisrael and Naomi Weiser of Efrat, who both immigrated to Israel from the United States with their families as children. A soldier who took part in Saturday’s firefight told the family that Roey “went out to fight the enemy almost all on his own and managed to repel the attack, but suffered a direct hit. Because of his bravery, 12 soldiers were saved.”

Roey “always had a smile on his face, a joke or a funny comment,” his uncle, Ashley Perry, a former advisor to Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, said on Facebook. “It is said very often and easily, but Roey was loved by everyone who met him and all wanted to be his friend and hang out with him.”

A star soccer player

Lior Asulin (Via X)

Lior Asulin, 43, who over 15 seasons with various teams established himself as one of the top strikers in Israel’s domestic soccer league, was among the more than 250 festival-goers gunned down at a desert rave in southern Israel after Hamas militants opened fire and looked to take many hostage. A native of Ra’anana, Asulin grew up in the youth system of the Maccabi Herzliya soccer club and was signed to a long-term contract with Herzliya after the 2001-2002 season. He also played with Apollon Limassol FC, a Cypriot sports club. Asulin had found peace working on a horse farm after serving nearly a year in prison in 2021 for selling marijuana. “The Hapoel Tel Aviv club bows its head and sends condolences and strength to Lior’s family at this difficult time,” one of his former clubs said in a statement.

A senior officer and father of six

Lt. Col. Jonathan Steinberg, the commander of the Nahal Brigade, in an undated photo (Israel Defense Forces)

Lt. Col. Jonathan Steinberg, the commander of Israel’s elite Nahal Brigade, was killed Saturday during a confrontation with a terrorist near Kerem Shalom. Steinberg, of Kibbutz Shomria, was one of the most senior officers to have been killed in combat in recent memory, Times of Israel reported. Steinberg studied at Horev High School and Ma’ale Eliyahu Yeshiva in Tel Aviv. He enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces in 2000 and rose through the ranks, becoming commander of the brigade in May. He is survived by his wife and six children.

A daughter of soccer royalty

May Naim and her grandfather, Shlomo Sharaf (Courtesy)

Mai Naim, 22, the granddaughter of one of Israel’s most successful soccer coaches, was also among the more than 250 people killed by Hamas gunmen while attending the music festival near Kibbutz Reim. Friends said Naim decided only at the last minute to attend the festival; when gunmen overran the concert area, shooting into the crowd and grabbing as many hostages as they could, she sought shelter in nearby Kibbutz Be’eri but was pursued and gunned down. Her grandfather Shlomo Sharaf coached Maccabi Haifa to three championships and was manager of Israel’s national soccer team from 1992-1999.

Israel’s national Football Association issued a statement: “In these sad, painful days, moments that the mind and soul find difficult to contain, we wish to offer our condolences to the families of those killed, wish the injured a speedy recovery and emphasize the commitment of the Football Association to take an active and central part in any assistance required and in any way possible to bring comfort to a wounded and pain-filled country.”

The post Faces of Israel’s fallen: Soldiers, a peace activist, a family of 5 and more appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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On Explosive Northern Front, Hezbollah Lurks; IDF Conducts Precise Defense

UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol in the village of Khiam, near the border with Israel, in southern Lebanon, July 12, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

JNS.orgAs Israel prepares for the strong possibility of a resumption of war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces is also currently in a heightened state of alert and preparedness along the border with Lebanon, responding to the continuous threats posed by Hezbollah.

Since Oct. 7, the IDF has deployed significant military resources, including artillery, tanks and engineering corps, along the Lebanese border, striking Hezbollah anti-tank missile squads and other terrorists whenever they are detected, either after an attack or preparing for one.

This low-intensity conflict when compared to Gaza has resulted in some 90 casualties for Hezbollah and nine Israeli casualties—six military personnel and three civilians.

Several Israeli homes and military bases have sustained heavy damage from Hezbollah strikes since Oct. 7, and tens of thousands of Israeli residents from areas near the border with Lebanon remain evacuated, displaced from their homes by the threat of the Radwan Hezbollah elite terrorist unit.

In response, the IDF has employed a defensive-responsive posture aimed at protecting Israeli territory from Hezbollah’s aggression but not escalating the situation into a full-scale war front at this time.

Its approach is characterized by a reactive rather than proactive stance. Operations are tailored to respond to specific threats and attacks from Hezbollah, avoiding initiating aggression. This goal remains to protect civilian lives and property, as well as to make sure that Hezbollah cannot surprise the north as Hamas did the south. Still, the decision of any expanded war efforts in Lebanon remains up to the war cabinet.

Hezbollah’s tactics, meanwhile, involve embedding its operations within Lebanese civilian areas; using southern Shi’ite villages as bases of attack; firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli northern homes and military positions; and continuing to pose a serious and persistent threat.

The question of whether the Radwan unit, which has murder and kidnap squads much like Hamas’s Nukhba unit, could breach the Israeli border and conduct attacks has no clear answer at this time, although the IDF is present at the border in large numbers and has proven effective at detecting Radwan unit movements in real-time.

Hezbollah’s terror tactics not only endanger Lebanese civilians but are designed to complicate the IDF’s response—a familiar use of human shielding that Hamas employs as well in Gaza.

In this explosive situation, the IDF currently exercises restraint in its counterstrikes, relying on precise intelligence to target terrorist threats while minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage.

UNIFIL ineffective in curbing provocation

The role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in challenging Hezbollah’s flagrant violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans Hezbollah from operating in Southern Lebanon, is nonexistent.

Worse yet, Hezbollah has been actively using UNIFIL as human shields, launching attacks on Israel in some cases from tens of meters from UNIFIL positions.

UNIFIL’s ineffectiveness in curbing Hezbollah’s activities is self-evident, highlighting the limitations of international peacekeeping forces in such scenarios.

Despite this, the IDF continues to remain in contact with UNIFIL and has been transmitting its concern over Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities with no tangible results.

So far, Israel’s policy on the Lebanon border is a delicate balance between essential defense and cautious restraint. But it remains unclear how long this can continue since northern residents will not return to a persistent Hezbollah threat to their lives in the new, post-Oct. 7 reality, and the IDF cannot remain fully deployed in the north indefinitely.

The result is a paradox that appears to suggest difficult decisions in the future by the Israeli war cabinet if the north is to be sustainable and its residents granted a new sense of security.

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The Determination of Israel’s Reservists

IDF soldiers are seen at rest stop near the border with Gaza. Photo: Reuters/Jim Hollander

JNS.orgWho is the Israel soldier? They can be of any age and profession. It may have been a long time since they held a weapon. Many of them are at Tze’elim, one of the IDF’s largest bases, just across the border from Gaza on yellow sand.

When I meet them, they are waiting, as the brief ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was still holding. A short time later, Hamas broke the truce, attacked Israel with rockets, and the fighting began again.

These soldiers are older and more emotional than you would imagine. Their intentions are clear: “Never Again.” The Oct. 7 massacre will never be permitted to reoccur. Israel must be freed from the nightmare of Hamas.

In Tze’elim, rows of barracks and numerous disorderly tents house thousands of soldiers of all kinds. We meet with a group of them from Brigade 252. They are soldiers from the miluim—the reserves. They have completed their three-year military service—or two years, if they are women—but they all keep their “miluim bag” under the bed. If the phone rings, as happened on Oct. 7, they rush to the front, whether they are in Tel Aviv or traveling in Japan, whether they are left-wing or right-wing, professors or taxi drivers. They tear themselves away from the operating room and the shop, the lawyer’s office and the bus they drive.

Commander A. is thin, with gray hair and a kind smile. He is religious. On the morning of Oct. 7, he was in synagogue without a telephone. Someone told him “something never seen before is happening.” A. rushed to his collection point in the south and has yet to return home.

On Oct. 7, the reserves were immediately thrown into the battle to retake the kibbutzim that had been attacked and massacred by Hamas terrorists. They hunted down the Hamas men who remained and collected the wounded and dead Israelis in the fields and on the roads. A. closes his eyes. He has seen hell.

The 252 was then sent into the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, home to 50,000 inhabitants who serve as human shields for what is essentially a massive rocket launching pad. The reservists were trained in a mock-up of a Gaza city. They practiced how to enter, shoot, exit, climb, attack and go through tunnels full of TNT. They trained against ambushes, snipers and RPGs.

A. says that, when they went into Beit Hanoun itself, “We had to quickly learn a lesson: Beit Hanoun’s ambush is in his heart, not its outer circles. The terrorists let you enter easily. There’s a row of houses, two or three more, and that’s where Hamas is waiting for you—where you don’t expect it, in civilian structures.”

A. explains, “If we decide to destroy a structure and there are civilians inside, we warn the civilian population. … There are precise rules for evaluating whether we have to act, whether it’s essential because if we don’t act, the lives of soldiers or Israeli civilians are in danger. We try to stop Hamas’s continuous use of human shields by moving the civilians out completely.”

A. is happy to say, “Of civilians killed in Ben Hanoun, the number is zero.”

Israeli soldiers, however, were killed. Maj. Moshe, a 50-year-old engineer who works in high-tech, explained, “An army generally advances on a territory that, once occupied, is the starting point of your next step. But here, through the tunnels under the ground, suddenly you find the enemy shooting at you from behind.”

Thus, great efforts were made to locate the tunnels. “With the use of sophisticated instruments, and also sometimes suffering unexpected explosions given that Hamas’s specialty is to mine everything with large quantities of explosives, we quickly understood that the tunnels were a very sophisticated network, not holes of various sizes dug here and there, but an enormous spider web that converged on the urban center.”

“The structures used by Hamas, which they protected with human shields, included a mosque, a school, a hospital, a public swimming pool, civilian homes, children’s rooms, even their beds. There were weapons everywhere,” he says.

As a result of the truce, Moshe states, some of the evacuated civilians have begun to return. “We can block them,” he says, “but not attack them or approach them. There is a truce.”

Nonetheless, I point out, three soldiers were wounded two days ago in an attack. “True,” Moshe replies, “and we returned fire. If we are in danger we respond.” He notes that some of the returnees are Hamas terrorists, “but we are in a truce, we act according to the rules of defense.”

“We have two ways of being at war: offensive and defensive,” he continues. “The offensive is much easier: You face the enemy. You can move. Defense is unnerving, even dangerous, especially when there are civilians around.”

However, he says, there is much to do, even during a truce. “For example, we had completely dismantled the explosive systems inside a building, and then we realized that everything had been mined again.”

Hamas, he says, is “easier to deal with than endure while you can’t move. So, we wait for orders. The mission is to destroy Hamas and bring the kidnapped people home. That and nothing else.”

Now that the soldiers are back at war, the humanitarian issue is certainly important to them; not because of what the Biden administration tells them, but because that is what an Israeli soldier is.

First and foremost, however, they are Jews who know exactly what was done to their people on Oct. 7 and will continue their war of justice and survival. One of them tells me, “Yes, I feel when we fight, feel it physically, that our kidnapped citizens are not far away, and I fight for them too with all my heart. This is the most just war of all time.”

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The Moral Bankruptcy of IfNotNow

IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Photo: IfNotNow via Facebook.

JNS.orgA few days ago, I attended a webinar entitled “Jews for Ceasefire,” presented by the young Jewish anti-Zionists of IfNotNow. It was hosted by an earnest young woman named Gen (IfNotNow activists often don’t use their surnames), who began by reaffirming what the group calls its main goal: to “end American support for Israeli apartheid.” She went on to emphasize that all the positions taken by IfNotNow are “deeply grounded in Jewish tradition.” To prove the point, she called on Rabbi Monica Gomery, who led a prayer and enthusiastically praised the group’s work.

Next up was Noa, a young woman who said, “I’m going to root us in the moment.” “The moment,” however, did not include Hamas’s Oct. 7 genocidal attack on Israeli civilians. Noa said nothing whatsoever about it. Instead, she presented a litany of alleged Israeli abuses inflicted on Palestinians. Her omission appeared to be deliberate, as it helped portray the IDF’s defensive military operations in Gaza as an unprovoked act of aggression.

Following Noa, there was a testimonial from a young man named Boaz. He made what appeared to him to be a confession that his grandfather helped perpetrate the “nakba.” What he meant was that his grandfather was a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence. For Boaz, his father’s participation in Israel’s successful effort to prevent a second Holocaust was a source of shame, not pride. As he explained, he was trying to work through his guilt. A poster behind him bore the slogan, “Palestine will be free,” a popular euphemism for that second Holocaust.

After Boaz’s self-flagellation came the highlight of the webinar—an appearance by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Tlaib has been an ally of IfNotNow for some time. In fact, the group’s leadership began collaborating with Tlaib before she was elected to Congress. During her presentation, Tlaib referred to them as her “siblings.”

Sporting a t-shirt that said, “Justice from Detroit to Gaza”—a slogan that falsely connects Israel to police brutality controversies in the U.S.—Tlaib declared that Congress must demand a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas and “stop funding war crimes.” Like her IfNotNow supporters, Tlaib conveniently made no mention of the Oct. 7 attack or the hostages held by Hamas.

It apparently did not bother the leaders of IfNotNow that the House of Representatives had just censured Tlaib for her genocidal call to free “Palestine from the river to the sea.” Indeed, IfNotNow leaders repeat the same call in their training sessions. That training also endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to economically strangle Israel, as well as the so-called “right of return,” which aims to demographically eliminate the Jewish state.

It seems that IfNotNow leaders are unperturbed that Tlaib has characterized Hamas’s rampage of crimes against humanity as justified “resistance” to an “apartheid state.” These Jews, it appears, are perfectly happy to align themselves with someone who supports murdering large numbers of Jews. They are also unbothered by the fact that Tlaib posted a video on social media that says, “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people”—a genocide that is not happening. One of IfNotNow’s campaigns calling for a ceasefire is entitled, “No Genocide in Our Name.” Having erased Hamas’s genocidal attack, IfNotNow appears to have fabricated one.

In addition, IfNotNow has officially endorsed Tlaib’s statement, “You cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government.” To them and other young Jews who clasp hands with Tlaib and her compatriots, condemnation of Israel is the sine qua non of being a progressive, and a policy of racist exclusion must be imposed on any Jew who doesn’t get with the program. IfNotNow looks to Tlaib to lead the way, even though, like antisemites throughout history, she is happy to exploit them and eventually discard them once they have outlived their usefulness.

Most tellingly, IfNotNow has been unfazed by Tlaib’s open antisemitism, such as her claim that American supporters of Israel “forgot what country they represent,” clearly invoking the “dual loyalty” libel. She has also engaged in antisemitic conspiracy theories, talking about the “people behind the curtain” who are exploiting victims “from Gaza to Detroit.”

Worst of all, Tlaib is the only member of Congress to call for an end to the Jewish state. It should not be surprising that IfNotNow is fine with that, as they proudly state that they take no position on Israel’s right to exist.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has perfectly and accurately described such people as “Hamas’s useful idiots.”

The origins of IfNotNow’s ideology are obvious. Like Tlaib and many other “social justice” ideologues, IfNotNow divides people into two groups: Oppressors and the oppressed. Depending on your racial or ethnic identity, you by definition belong to one or the other. There are no gradations, no nuance and only one permissible narrative. Thus, decades of genocidal Arab violence go unmentioned, including the Oct. 7 massacre. There is only Israeli oppression and Palestinian “resistance.”

It would be a mistake to believe that IfNotNow is an inconsequential outlier. They have nine chapters across the United States and an office on K Street in Washington, D.C. The webinar I attended had more than 1,600 attendees.

They also have powerful friends and an enormous amount of money. According to NGO Monitor, IfNotNow has received grants from the wealthy Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, the New Israel Fund’s Progressive Jewish Fund and the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

All that, plus support from a member of Congress. It seems that racism, hate and support for genocide pay off.

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