Each year on Yom HaZikaron (which coincides this year with May 11) we remember the brave men and women who have fallen in defense of Israel. This year, one brave Israeli soldier’s recent death struck very close to home for me.
On February 18, IDF Staff Sergeant Tuvia Yanai Weissman, 21, who had been on leave from the army, was shopping for groceries with his wife, Yael, and their infant daughter, Netta. Suddenly, he heard screams from a different aisle as two Palestinians began stabbing other shoppers. Even though he was unarmed, Tuvia Yanai ran to help. Tragically, he was mortally wounded in the ensuing scuffle.
Tuvia Yanai and his wife were childhood friends who grew up in the town of Ma’ale Mikhmas and were married two years ago. During her husband’s funeral at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl Military Cemetery, Yael said: “If you had not raced to help, you would not be the Yanai I know, the one I fell in love with.” She added, “We were waiting for your discharge from the army. We had so many plans. To travel, to hike, to work, to study, and, most important of all, to be together.”
As soon as I read the details of this terrible incident, I reached out to my brother Josh and his family, who live in Ma’ale Mikhmas. I learned that not only do my brother and my sister-in-law, Sarah Devorah, know Yanai and Yael’s families well, but that Josh planned to recite the HaGomel (thanksgiving) blessing at shul that Shabbos, as he was shopping in the same grocery store at the time the attack occurred.
On behalf of my shul, Kesher Israel of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I reached out to Yael to express our deep condolences upon her loss, sending her the following letter (along with a grant from KI’s Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund) – via my brother and sister-in-law in Israel:
All of us at Kesher Israel Congregation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (U.S.A.) were terribly saddened when we learned of the tragic death of your beloved husband. At the same time, we were greatly inspired by his love for the people of Israel – which led him to put himself at risk in order to protect others.
Your determination to provide your beautiful daughter with a healthy and happy future has also made a positive impact on us – and on Jews all around the world. We pray that Hashem will continue to bless you with the strength that only He can provide.
Please accept this gift from our community. We hope that it can help you and your daughter during this difficult time.
With sincere condolences, Rabbi Akiva Males
My brother and sister-in-law told me how touched Yael and her family were by KI’s condolences and warm wishes. On the intermediate days of Passover, I received the following e-mail (translated from the original Hebrew) in return:
To Rabbi Akiva Males and the Harrisburg Jewish community,
I would like to thank you for the encouragement, condolences, and sympathy you sent to me after the death of my dear husband, Tuvia Yanai. They have strengthened and encouraged us greatly.
Every letter I receive from people I do not know reinforces my feelings that we are an amazing nation that does not forget its sons, warriors, and heroes. We are a people with a sense of mutual responsibility – as you too have shown. I am confident that this encouraging sense of mutual responsibility will ensure that the legacy of our dear Tuvia Yanai will continue.
The generous gift of support that you passed along to young Netta and me was extremely thoughtful – and provided me with the awareness that we are not alone, that good people think of us, care about us, and are at our side.
“Everyone helped his neighbor and said to his brother: ‘Be strong.’ ” – Isaiah 41:6
Yasher Koach, and continue to be strong,
Yael and Netta Weissman
On this Yom HaZikaron, may God remember the heroic sacrifices made by Tuvia Yannai Weissman and the brave men and women who have fallen in defense of Israel. May God look after and comfort their families who miss them so much. Finally, may God bless Israel with true peace and security – so that none of us will have to send any more condolence letters to families mourning the loss of their loved ones.