Photo Credit: Courtesy

From havdala to havdala. One week, euphoria from the hostage rescue; the next week, anguish that ten soldiers were killed. Often at weddings and shiva houses, people ask, “How do you know them?” I’m not in the habit of crashing weddings of strangers, but during this war I have made a habit to go to shiva houses when possible. In the case of Eli Moshe Zimbalist, Hy”d, I only virtually met his brother-in-law Yaakov Wolff earlier this year, through his Shtark Tank podcast. Yet I knew a visit would be appreciated and, in the Anglo Israeli world, you’re never more than one or two steps removed. Lo and behold, I later found out Eli Mo’s uncle was my brother-in-law’s former congregant. I was so taken by what I heard of Eli Mo’s life that I asked to sit down with his father, which he graciously agreed to do after shiva.



Please give us a brief sketch of Eli Moshe’s background.

Simmy Zimbalist: He was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, and we made aliyah when he was two, to Beit Shemesh. He went to Ahavat Yisrael for elementary school and yeshiva high school. After graduating, he joined the Israeli side of Shaalvim’s hesder program, and after two years of yeshiva, joined the army in March 2023.

So he was nearing the end of Shiur Gimmel (3rd year) now.

Exactly. He was supposed to finish his hesder service in August. He was so looking forward to returning to the beit midrash for Elul zman, though he anticipated they would have to extend a little bit because of the war.

Did he have interactions/relationships with the American students in Shaalvim?

It’s interesting. He’s bilingual but, at first, he hid that he knew English. But he quickly came to know the chutznikim (Anglos) and ended up interacting a lot with them, whether it was inviting them for Shabbat, learning together, or volunteering together in the dining room. Many people are telling us that he became the bridge between the Israeli and American programs.

What was his role in the army?

He was in combat engineering. They are responsible for detecting and blowing up terror infrastructure such as tunnels and booby-trapped buildings, which of course became a critical part of the current war.

Wow. In the shiva house, I overheard an anecdote about the army trying to get him to become an officer. What happened there?

At the end of his advanced training the army wanted him for an officers course. He declined because he didn’t want to extend his time in the army. He wanted to go back to the beit midrash. Later, after being assigned to the platoon, they asked him to be part of the unit’s leadership. Even for that you generally have to extend…they went back and forth, but eventually he agreed to take on the extra responsibilities on condition that he could go back to yeshiva on time.

What incredible dedication. Something on many people’s minds – especially among potential or recent olim – is whether someone can serve in the army and remain a ben Torah. As an oleh parent of someone who embodied that dual commitment, can you share some thoughts?

During shiva, one of his friends shared he was debating whether to become a combat soldier, his concern being that it would affect his religiosity and lower his commitment to Torah and mitzvot. He was a lone soldier and approached Eli Mo with his concerns. “It has nothing to do with the army,” Eli Mo told this fellow. “If you know Torah is your life, if you have those core values, that’s what will define whether you’re going to be shomer mitzvot, whether in the army or anywhere else.”

We’re hearing so many illustrations of that. The night before his death, on Shabbat, Eli Mo was the one who made a minyan. If you saw a video of a megillah reading in Shifa Hospital, that was his unit and he pushed for it, even though it was 1 a.m. after an intense day of battle. He fasted on Ta’anit Esther. Before they went in that round, he wired me money to donate for matanot l’evyonim on Purim day on his behalf. When they’re on base, they learn, the kashrut is good, the rebbeim come to teach and give chizzuk.

At first, I didn’t understand why people spoke of Eli Mo’s woodworking with such awe. Ok, a nice hobby, I thought. Can you share a bit about that?

Sure. He always had very good hands and a keen eye. It started off as a hobby, making “little” things like a bench or stool. But over time it became much more. He took on significant projects, building pergolas and decks for dozens of families. And on a volunteer basis, he built mechitzas for the shul, numerous shtenders (over 100!), bookcases, and the bimah. He really helped mekadeish (sanctify) the shul and used his unique talents to build Hashem’s world.

Just to add some snippets regarding woodworking. I heard Rabbi Shalom Rosner’s nephew comment that on each visit to the shul he noticed more shtenders, but he never knew who made them. Eli Mo’s brother-in-law told me Eli Mo built a ramp to his house for his grandparents, even though they were only in Israel a couple Shabbatot a year! In a tragic paradox, he built the small Aron Kodesh used for shiva homes, used much too soon for his own shiva. He also built platforms during Corona to uphold the stringency that the chazzan be able to see all the participants in the minyan.

Yes, and it wasn’t just that. During Corona, the rules changed every week. He was constantly building platforms, constructing mechitzas, hanging tarps, lights, and fans, anything to help enable there to be tefillah b’tzibbur in as safe and comfortable manner as possible.

Are there things that you learned about him during shiva that you didn’t know previously?

The stories we heard affirmed his core attributes, and it was heartwarming to hear how those attributes – his chesed, his keenness, his professionalism, his work ethic—manifested themselves in the different environments of yeshiva and the army. Regarding yeshiva, we’re hearing about his willingness to help fix the Rav’s shtender, to build plaques for the Aron Kodesh, or getting to minyan on time. And similarly in the army, apparently he took on the hardest tasks, yet making sure to daven even if he was tired, with a minyan whenever possible. And if there were different choices of food, he found out which had the better hashgacha.


The family endeavors to complete the building of Rabbi Shalom Rosner’s shul, so much of which Eli Moshe built with his own hands, in Eli Moshe’s memory:

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleRemembering God’s Wrath on Shabbat – Parshat Shelach
Next articleSerbian Cop Wounded in Crossbow Attack Outside Israeli Embassy
Rabbi Chaim Goldberg has semicha from RIETS and a graduate degree in child clinical psychology from Hebrew University. Aside from practicing psychology and teaching Torah at various yeshivot/seminaries, he runs Mussar Links, a non-profit dedicated to publishing the Torah writings of Rabbi Hillel Goldberg.