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הנני – Solidarity Mission Reflections

By Sharon (Morah Sarah) Richter

On the first day of our mission, our final stop was to the Hershkovitz family in G’vaot. My heart was pulling me there from the moment I heard the devastating news of Yossi’s z”l death. G’vaot is a small yishuv in the Gush that integrates people with disabilities into a typical community. It makes perfect sense that that is where the Hershkovitz’s chose to live when they returned from SAR to their home in Israel seven years ago.

As we got off the bus, we saw three large white tents set up adjacent to their home to accommodate the thousands who had visited throughout shiva. There was a large sign hanging on the house demonstrating Yossi’s request that went viral that we, as a nation, remain united and refrain from speaking lashon hara about one another.

Hadas got up from shiva the day we visited. Earlier in the day she had been to Yossi’s kever for the aliya la’kever at Har Herzl and then at Shaare Tzedek visiting Yossi’s friend Elisha Medan (Elisha Yehuda ben Ruti) and other chayalim who were injured. Surrounded by her children – Beeri, Halel, Tal, Shira, and Neta – and close friends and family, including Esti Schwartz and Einav Rosen, Hadas graciously welcomed her SAR family into her home.

We brought some games that we quietly gave to the kids knowing that they could not and would not take away any of the pain, but wanting to give what we could to express our love for the family.

Rabbi Krauss gave Hadas the plaque of the congressional record entered by Congressman Ritchie Torres, eulogizing Yossi.

The pain was deep and too raw to bear. We cried and hugged and reminisced and wanted to hear more.

Yossi went to serve at the age of 44 because he was on a mission to defend and restore the pride and strength of Am Yisrael following the turmoil of the past year and the massacre that took place on October 7th. We were not surprised to hear from friends that his upbeat, light-hearted, and spiritual nature energized his unit. Hadas’s brother, Ori, who served alongside him, emphasized Yossi’s role in providing strength to the chayalim: “Hu chizek, chizek v’chizek” – “He strengthened, strengthened, and strengthened.”

Yossi’s unit entered Gaza, and he led them to Beit Hanoun. The soldier that stood next to him recounted that as they entered amidst the bright flares and explosive sounds, Yossi remarked, “We are seeing and hearing the thunder and lightning—I feel like I am at Har Sinai.” This statement encapsulates Yossi’s unique approach to the mission, blending a sense of purpose with spiritual reverence.

This mindset was similarly reflected in a letter that Hadas shared. While in Gaza, Yossi wrote to his staff thanking them for covering at the Pelech school in his absence. His message was one of “Hineni.” Yossi was answering Hashem’s call and the call of Am Yisrael.

“אלהי, עד שלא נוצרתי איני כדאי, ועכשיו שנוצרתי, כאילו לא נוצרתי…” “ויאמר הנני” “הנני לכהונה, הנני למלכות הקב”ה קורא: “אברהם אברהם”, והתשובה “הנני”. “הנני” – לכל שליחות מטעם ההשגחה העליונה. לכל פקודה מאת ה’. גם הקשה והנשגבה ביותר. “הנני” – מיד, וללא שאלה, וללא תנאי. “הנני” – כולי, ללא שיעור וללא שיור. ומסתבר: “הנני” של אברהם אבינו הוא תורה לזרע אברהם לדורות עולם. אדם מישראל, לפי כוחו, זמנו ומקומו. צריך לומר: “הנני” – לאשר נדרש ממנו לפי כוחו ובאותו זמן ובאותו מקום. “הנני” – לכל אשר יידרש לכלל ולפרט. לכל שליחות, אם נעימה ואם בלתי נעימה, אם קלה ואם קשה. אם של הפסד ואם של שכר… “הנני” – היא הדרך: דרך האדם בעולמו של הקב”ה. (הרב אלימלך בר שאול ריח מים) מזה שלושה שבועות אנו נמצאים במלחמה אותה ביקש הקב”ה מאיתנו. שנכבה את אש הרוע בעולם ונפיץ טוב ונשמיד את הרע הקב”ה שלח אותי כרגע למשימה אחרת ולכן התנתקתי אני רוצה להודות לכולכם על ההתגייסות המרשימה לדורון בתיה שלקחו פיקוד ויחד עימו צוות ההנהלה שעובדים מסביב לשעון ולכולכם שנושאים בנטל גדול כל אחד ואחת.. כולנו כרגע ממשיכיו של אברהם כל אחד ב”הנני” שלו. לכל משימה. תתחזקו ואל תיראו “ושאבתם מים בששון ממעייני הישועה” כי הישועה הזאת קרובה לבוא. אוהב ומעריך את כולכם שבת שלום

Loosely translated into English:

“Hakadosh Baruch Hu calls “Avraham, Avraham” and the answer is “Hineni”. Hineni without question, Hineni without limits. Avraham’s Hineni is a Torah for all future generations. Every person, according to their place, time and strengths needs to answer Hineni to what is asked of him. For every mission, easy or hard, one that comes with gains one that comes with loss. Hineni is the way. For these three weeks that we have been at war, Hashem has asked this of us. He has asked that we extinguish the fire of evil from the world, and spread goodness. At the moment, Hashem has sent me on a mission which is why I have not been reachable for school matters. I want to thank Doron and Batya and the entire team for taking on my responsibilities at school. I know that you are all working around the clock. Each of us, as descendants of Avraham Avinu are currently in their personal “Hineni” mission. Stay strong and do not be afraid. Draw forth strength, for the salvation is near. With love and appreciation to all of you. Shabbat Shalom.

Hadas shared with us a touching video featuring IDF Col. Golan Voch during a moving shiva visit. Col. Golan Voch, renowned for his search and rescue expertise spanning two decades, has aided in disasters worldwide, including Surfside, Florida, and the recent earthquake in Turkey. Golan Voch was in Beeri and Reim on October 7th and then joined Yossi’s unit as they prepared to enter Gaza and take over Beit Hanoun. His proficiency in dealing with rubble and collapsed buildings proved invaluable in navigating the challenging terrain.

During a night of shmira (guard duty), Yossi and Golan, both musically talented, bonded even further. Yossi hummed a tune and Golan asked, “What is that song?”. Yossi replied that it was not a tune he would know, as he had been composing it himself in his mind over the past few weeks, incorporating the words from Tehillim: “גם כי אלך בגיא צלמוות לא אירא רע כי אתה עמדי” – “Even when I walk in the valley of death, I will not fear because you Hashem are with me.” Golan, moved by the melody, asked Yossi to teach it to him. They sang it back and forth throughout guard duty until Golan mastered the tune. Tragically, a few days later, Yossi was killed in Gaza along with Maj. (res.) Moshe Yedidyah Leiter z”l, Master Sgt. (res.) Matan Meir z”l, and Master Sgt. (res.) Sergey Shmerkin z”l. Golan, grieving the loss, was unable to recall the melody, regretting deeply not recording Yossi singing it as he never expected Yossi would not return. However, during Yossi’s funeral, amidst the somber music, the tune suddenly came back to Golan. When he came to be menachem avel during shiva, he pulled out a guitar and tearfully played the song (which you can listen to here).

One night of shiva, Yossi’s students filled the tents and sang and shared stories of what Yossi meant to them as their principal and mentor. Hadas was appreciative of the many SAR students and teachers that came to visit throughout shiva as well, sharing the profound impact the Yom HaZikaron programs that she and Yossi created for the school had on them. Yossi and Hadas left SAR seven years ago and many graduates still feel very connected. Likewise, Hadas felt equally connected to them, noting the strength and closeness of the SAR family.

Hadas mentioned that her last musical gig with Yossi took place this past Chol Hamoed Sukkot, (just days before Yossi was called to serve). They went to the hospital together to bring some joy to patients on the chag. This is quintessential Yossi and Hadas, he on his violin and she on her flute, sharing their love and music with others. That is the way they interacted with the world–with soulfulness, sensitivity, and joy.

The hour was late. Before we knew it, we had been at the Hershkovitz home for an hour and a half. We hugged Hadas and her kids and her family members and friends. We all felt deep pain and wanted to be mechazek in any way that we could. We walked away, both stunned and strengthened by the stories of heroism, big and small, that we had heard. As the bus pulled out of G’vaot we were all silent. The pain was searing. There was much to process. I was thinking about how many people have been impacted by the loss of this one precious soul and how we could help and show our support to the family.

There is a long road ahead for healing and for nechama from this tragedy and what will help us through is our strength in unity, emunah, and answering our call of “Hineni”.

What We Can Do to Help
As a nation, we grieve together. Despite the physical distance that separates us, we can offer support to those in grief by writing letters. Letters to the Nation is a WhatsApp group posting information about fallen soldiers or civilians killed and explaining how to email brief condolence letters. These messages will be printed out and personally delivered to grieving families, including the Hershkovitz family, showing global Jewish solidarity during this challenging time. Together, we extend our love and support, bridging the physical gaps that separate us. Join here.

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