My Cousin in Gaza


benBy Richard Rabkin

Ben is from Portland Oregon. He’s only 20 years old, but he’s my hero.

Ironically, Ben used to look up to me. He’s my cousin. He was born when I was a teenager and I’ve watched him grow from a baby to a young man. I would often spend Pesach with Ben and his parents Brian and Laurie, and I had fun hanging out with Ben and his brothers Will and Jon. I think they thought I was cool because I was the “big cousin.”

As Ben approached his graduation from high school, his friends were deciding which college to attend. But Ben didn’t choose Oregon State or an Ivy League school or even backpacking across Europe. Instead, he chose to spend a year in Israel at Bar-Ilan University. During his studies, Ben was introduced to a girl named Miriam from Denver, Colorado who was also studying at Bar Ilan. They had a lot in common.

Ben looked back at his life in Portland and his new life in Israel. If life were a play, Ben felt that living in Portland was like sitting in the audience; living in Israel was like being on the stage. Ben, 19 years old, decided to make Aliyah to Israel. On his own.

Miriam also made Aliyah. She had some cousins in Israel, but Yerushalayim is a long way from Denver, Colorado. After Bar Ilan, Miriam chose to spend a year in seminary enhancing her knowledge of Judaism.

And Ben, my “little cousin,” enlisted in the Israel Defense Force. When he could have been home in America going to frat parties or football games, he was in Israel putting his life on the line to protect the Jewish people. Now he was really home.

For Ben and Miriam it was time to build that house. They got engaged and planned a wedding. Family and friends came to Israel to celebrate. Even cousin Richard.

At the ceremony, the officiating rabbi said something poignant. He said that thousands of years ago, there was a song written just for Ben and Miriam. We have sung it countless times over the ages, in the many difficult times that we Jewish people have experienced. They sang: there will yet again be heard, in the hills of Judah and in the street of Jerusalem, the sound of joy and merriment, the sound of a bride and groom. Here we were at Ben and Miriam’s wedding, in the hills of Judah. There were sounds of joy and merriment. The sounds of the bride and groom. A boy from Portland, Oregon. A girl from Denver, Colorado.

Those of us who love Israel occasionally toy with the idea of living there. But we think of the many obstacles: our friends, our families, our jobs. It’s not possible. But simply and courageously Ben and Miriam demonstrated that it’s very possible.

Only a month after his wedding, Ben has been called up to fight for the Jewish people in the conflict in Gaza. Miriam has also enlisted in a non-combat capacity. I am in Canada thinking about where I should take my family on vacation and Ben, Miriam and the rest of the soldiers in the IDF are fighting for the safety of every Jew around the world. Make no mistake: what the current conflict has demonstrated quite clearly is that Jews around the world are identified with Israel. So no matter where we live, these young men and women in the IDF belong to each and every one of us.

Some people idolize athletes, others look up to entertainers. For me, it’s my cousin Ben. He’s my hero.


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  1. To my dear friend Richard, your words are so beautiful and touching, you made me wipe a tear away, thank you very much, and I wish your whole family lots of hatzlacha

  2. So beautifully written. This is a very special
    couple. Instead of a honeymoon to the islands they are showing us where our priorities should be

    May hashem protect and save them from harm with all our strong chayalim

  3. Please daven for our soldiers. You may sign up at and they will give you a name. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that the best protection for a soldier is to buy a letter in a sefer Torah. See I googled “purchase letter in a sefer Torah and came up with In purchasing the letter, I paid 5 dollars and when asked for family name I wrote “Ploni”. I believe that one can purchase a letter with any amount Thank you and may we have no more loss of life.

  4. YH – commentor #5 – really, do you have to be so petty. I would embarrassed to show a non-religious person the comments on these forums – because they are just so trite – and nasty – and unnecessary – under the dire circumstances – is a person bsoch shana rishona potur from milchama? Not sure – but a person is always and should always be on guard from letting loose empty and hurtful comments- Happy 3 Weeks to you #5.

  5. I love your story, I can relate to it so well. My daughter and Son-in-law were at Ben and Miriam ‘s wedding. They too made aliyah and attend Bar Illan University. My daughter made the choice to marry a beautiful young man who has been in the IDF, and move to Israel and leave, the gloriously beautiful Denver, Co. May all our beautiful committed children and relatives, remain in the full shelter of Hashem and his protective wings. I miss my daughter and son very much, and worry sometime, but I know they are living out the committed and dedicated live. May klal Israel remain under the shelter of H-s wings!