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Chabad at Short Hills Hosts Brother of Eli Kay, HY”D

On November 21, 2021, Eli Kay was taking his usual morning route to work. He had recently moved to Jerusalem to be near his girlfriend and his family. Cutting through the Arab quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, Eli made his way, as he did every other day, to the Kotel, where he served as an informational guide. At the same time, a Hamas-affiliated man from East Jerusalem was walking through the same alleyways, armed with a submachine gun. Eli was shot multiple times and killed. He was 25.

One hundred days after Eli, HY”D was murdered, his brother Kasriel, and Kasriel’s wife, Shani, spoke at the Chabad at Short Hills in a program coordinated in conjunction with the Chabad of West Orange and the Chabad of Millburn.

Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz of West Orange and Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky of Millburn opened the evening with Tehillim, Rabbi Kasowitz noting that our “hearts, thoughts and prayers” are with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. Rabbi Mendel Solomon of Short Hills introduced Kasriel and Shani, and thanked everyone for attending and “working together to make Eli’s memory—and his life—a living legacy.”

Kasriel and Shani described the boy they knew and loved: a prolific reader from a young age, a Harry Potter fan and an ardent Zionist. According to family stories, Eli was a mischievous and intellectually curious boy who grew into a natural leader.

From South Africa, Eli made aliyah and joined the IDF, where he became a lone soldier. Lone soldier is a special designation for those who serve in the IDF while their families live elsewhere. It is seen as a position of great honor in Israel.

Lina Kanchik of Livingston arranged Tuesday night’s program, bringing together all three communities in order to raise awareness about both Eli Kay and lone soldiers in general. Kanchik’s son Lenny recently made aliyah through Garin Tzabar and is now a lone soldier himself. Anything that has to do with lone soldiers, she said, is something that she is now drawn to. She said that Lenny went to Israel for the first time for his bar mitzvah, and he fell in love. When he decided to make aliyah instead of going to college, it was no surprise to anyone in the family.

Sharon Zughaft of West Orange told The Jewish Link that her son, Jonathan, had also been a lone soldier. Not only that, but Eli Kay had been Jonathan’s commander in his paratroopers unit. Zughaft said that her son immediately felt a close connection with Eli. The two were both lone soldiers, and Eli was the only English-speaking commander Jonathan had. Eli’s death hit very close to home for the entire Zughaft family.

Shiva brought thousands of people every day, Kasriel and Shani said. Kasriel, taking after his younger brother, had also made aliyah and become a lone soldier. It was in the army where he met Shani, also a lone soldier, from Atlanta. The two had been married only two-and-a-half weeks before Eli was killed.

Kasriel now works as a logistics coordinator of The Base, an organization that provides space, community and tangible needs for lone soldiers.

Kasriel said that his brother was someone to whom people could connect. He gave people quality time and made them feel seen and heard. “How can you take so much time for strangers?” people would ask Eli. “You only have so much time during the day.”

“God thought they were worthy of being here,” Eli would respond. “The least I can do is give them the time of day.”

By Talia Liben Yarmush

 

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