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American Friends of Israel Navy SEALs Hosts Northeast Premiere of ‘Knock on the Door’

Audience at screening. (Credit: Josh Strauss Studios)

On April 11, American Friends of Israel Navy SEALs (AFINS) hosted the northeast premiere film screening of “Knock on the Door,” a documentary exploring the role of casualty notification officers who have the emotionally taxing job of informing next of kin that their loved one has been killed in combat.

The film describes the intense training of the IDF soldiers whose role it is to carry out the notifications, as well as the accompanying emotional trauma which they experience.

Among those featured in the film is one of its directors, Aya Elia, who recounts the story of the loss of her brother, fallen SEAL Itamar Elia. Itamar and 10 of his SEAL teammates were killed in an ambush in Ansariya, Lebanon on Sept. 4, 1997. Itamar’s body was held by Hezbollah for nearly a year.

In a post-film screening conversation, Robbie Brenner, executive director of AFINS, spoke with Aya and with Malki Ginsberg, widow of SEAL Eli Ginsberg. Eli, a senior commander who had a highly decorated 24-year military career and retired three weeks before Oct. 7, fell in battle in Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 8. Aya and Malki discussed their experiences of loss and of the notification process.

(from second from left to right) Malki Ginsberg, Aya Elia and Robbie Brenner.
(Credit: Josh Strauss Studios)

Aya observed that to a certain extent the notification process changed after Oct. 7, explaining that at every screening of the film in Israel “someone stands up from the crowd and introduces themselves as a casualty messenger officer.” At one screening, an officer stood up and started crying.

Continued Aya, “[T]he IDF and the Israeli state help those people [whose] job it is to knock on doors, help them to know what to do in this horrific situation, but after Oct. 7 all those protocols, they were not realistic. We didn’t have enough manpower.

“So he cried because the protocol was lost and he now had to be … without his shield in this work.”

Malki stated that she was notified at 3 a.m. that Eli had fallen in combat. “[T]he knock on the door came … I saw two officers …They told me ‘We are sorry to tell you that Eli was killed.’”

Stated Malki: “At that moment I don’t even know if there’s a protocol. Once the knock on the door comes and the door opens. I don’t know if there’s one [officer], if there’s two, or if there’s five. I know that my life as I know it is about to change.”

After she heard the knock on the door, Malki realized that “[T]his is my movie. And whatever I don’t have control over, I don’t have control over and I had to let go.”

Malki recognized, however, that she does have control over some things. “Every day, every single morning, I make a choice to live for myself and for my four very, very sweet kids,” she said.

The focus of the evening was not only the film, but on AFINS and the Israel Navy SEALs. Known in Hebrew as Shayetet-13 (Flotilla-13), the unit is designed to complete operations anywhere, under any circumstances, with any amount of notice, and is considered one of the top special forces units in the world.

Given the intensity of the unit’s training and service, many Shayetet-13 members struggle with post-traumatic stress syndrome, injuries and the transition from military to civilian life.

AFINS seeks to fund critical programs and services for the Israel Navy SEAL community, and for the myriad of groups reached through SEAL volunteerism. These programs and services are delivered in connection with the Israel-based Atalef Foundation, a leading Israeli nongovernmental organization established in 1984.

Highlighted at the event was one of AFINS’ programs known as “Buddy Line,” which pairs Israel Navy SEAL volunteers with veterans of other IDF units who suffer from severe PTSD, for a year of surfing, sailing or scuba diving.

Stated Brenner, “The water is really a framework for camaraderie, for personal challenge and self-empowerment and post-traumatic growth.”

In fact, Eli participated in Buddy Line, and his buddy in the program was Gili Guy. Guy stated that Eli was his mentor and even though Eli was married with four children, he always “found the time for me to speak, to meet me, to give me a hug, to give me the right words.”

Stated Malki of Eli’s partnership with Guy: “They met each Friday for their Marine activity which was surfing. [Eli] would come home elated, with a twinkle in his eyes.”

For more information on AFINS, a 501(c)(3) organization, visit www.afins.us.


Judith Falk is the creator of the Upper West Side Shtetl Facebook group. You can follow her on instagram @upperwestsideshtetl. She is a lawyer by day and a former legal reporter.

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