By Rabbi Steven Burg
Passover is one of the most joyous occasions on the Jewish calendar. On that week-long Festival, we celebrate God’s rescue of the Jewish people from centuries of Egyptian servitude. And yet, I found this year’s celebration tinged with sorrow.
Two members of the IDF were killed the Friday before Pesach in a firefight with terrorists, whom they discovered planting explosives along the security fence in southern Gaza near Kissufim. Two other soldiers were injured and two terrorists were killed. This was to have been the Golani Brigade’s last Shabbos in Kissufim, as they were scheduled to leave the Gaza border after Shabbos.
The two IDF fatalities were Staff Sergeant Ilan Sabyatkovski, 21, of Rishon L’Tzion and Major Eliraz Peretz, 32 of Yishuv Eli, members of the Golani Brigade’s 12th Battalion. On Sunday, when other families were preparing for Pesach, these families were making funerals.
By all accounts, Major Peretz was an exceptional individual. Because of his military responsibilities, he was only able to see his wife and their four small children, all under the age of five, every other Shabbos. When he did make it home, he would spend part of his precious time teaching Tanach (Bible) to neighborhood children. (Eliraz lived in a religious “settlement,” in a neighborhood called Givat HaYovel, populated by career military and their families. Another resident is the widow of Major Ro’i Klein, hero of the Second Lebanon War, who died al Kiddush Hashem, jumping on a grenade to save his men. The homes of both of these families are scheduled for demolition.)
This is not the first such tragedy mother Miriam Peretz has had to endure. She lost another son, Uriel, in combat in Lebanon 12 years earlier, two days after his 22 birthday. Despite this, the family sought no exemptions from military service for Eliraz, preferring to dedicate themselves to the defense of Eretz Yisrael and her citizens.
I was feeling rather despondent about this news, when I began to notice the details. Major Peretz loved his community and his nation; he dedicated his life to them, ultimately in the most literal sense. Here was a dedicated Israeli family who, having already lost a son, could have sought a military exemption, but refused to do so. Not only that, the Peretz family refuses to use the death of Eliraz as a bargaining chip in the fate of their disputed community because he would have sought no special favors or privileges. And, as she was sitting shiva, it was Miriam Peretz who offered words of strength and consolation to the grieving nation, rather than the other way around. What a remarkable family! How could anyone help but be encouraged by their example?
I had been starting to feel as if our redemption was farther away than ever, but then I realized just how close at hand it truly is.
To me, this story is directly related to another remarkable development of late: within the past few weeks, we have seen the restoration of the Hurva Synagogue, destroyed by Jordanian forces in the 1948 war. Despite an attempt by detractors to stir up controversy, thanks to the Israeli government, we are once again free to pray in that holy site. It is only due to the sacrifices of such righteous people as Eliraz Eliyahu Peretz that we can walk the streets of Jerusalem and daven in her shuls. May his name be fondly remembered among his people.
Rabbi Steven Burg is the Managing Director of the Orthodox Union and the International Director of its youth program, NCSY.