Eliyahu David Kay, 26, the South African oleh who was fatally shot in a terrorist attack while walking to the Kotel on Sunday morning, November 21, and laid to rest in Jerusalem the next day, was a real hero.
As South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein wrote in his statement of condolences to the Kay family, “Eli, their son, was a hero of the Jewish people who made aliyah and served in the IDF—like their other sons—and made us all so proud.”
Noting that “the Kay family have for generations been pillars of the South African Jewish community—exemplars of kindness, contribution and faith,” Goldstein wrote: “They are a family renowned and beloved for making this world a better place through their good deeds, and Eli lived with the same spirit and values.”
Kay, the grandson of Rabbi Shlomo Levin, the rabbi of South Hampstead United Synagogue in London, and son of Avi and Devorah Kay, moved to Israel from Johannesburg on his own in 2016 to study at the Chabad yeshiva in Kiryat Gat. A year later he volunteered to serve in the IDF Paratroopers Brigade in the framework of Machal. Despite being injured a few times in the IDF, he marched on with courage and determination, completing his military service in August 2019.
After deciding to officially make aliyah, he volunteered on Kibbutz Nirim on the Gaza border for a year and most recently worked as a guide for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation in Jerusalem.
“He raised the spirits of everyone,” the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said. “He did his holy work with dedication and loyalty.”
Kay served as a role model for his family who followed in his footsteps. His older and younger brothers came to Israel, made aliyah and served as lone soldiers in the IDF, while his parents and younger sister made aliyah last December, settling in Modi’in.
Kay was planning to marry his fiancée, Jen Schiff, in just a few months’ time. In a heartfelt tribute, Schiff told reporters on Sunday night: “I just felt it was important to share how much Eli loved this country, and how he came here by himself and fought for this country. He had a bunch of injuries in the army and yet continued to go through all of the training and have his own soldiers.
“He is the strongest person I have ever known, emotionally and physically... He always treated everyone with love and respect. I know that when this happened today he didn’t feel alone and that he knew that being in this country and doing what he did and who he was, giving everything he had to the people around him and to the people of Israel.”
According to Telfed, the South African Zionist Federation, Kay was the 10th South African immigrant to be killed in a terrorist attack in Israel since the establishment of the state. Telfed also reports that South African aliyah is at a 25-year high, with more than 440 immigrants arriving in Israel this year.
Eli Kay’s death should not deter Jews from South Africa and around the world from making aliyah, nor should it prevent like-minded young men and women like him from serving as lone soldiers in the IDF. On the contrary, Kay’s life should inspire others to follow his shining example.
One of his brothers, Kasriel, pointed out that Eli was the first member of the Kay family to come to Israel “and gave everything for this country,” adding that the family is planning to build something in his memory—“so we will truly remember him eternally.”
Eli Kay was a passionate Zionist, a devoted Jew and a compassionate human being who gave of himself for others and for Israel. He was an example of the amazing contributions olim (new immigrants) make to this country and how sometimes they pay with their lives to safeguard and protect it.
We convey our heartfelt condolences to his family; we salute him for being a living example of a beautiful soul, an outstanding immigrant and a true mensch.