April 12, 2024
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Lakewood Yeshiva Student Missing in Israel

Personal belongings believed to be owned by missing yeshiva student Aaron Sofer, 23 of Lakewood, NJ, who was studying in Israel, were found by police and K9 dogs on Tuesday, August 26.

The area of the search has been evacuated of non-official personnel as what is reported to be a massive search continues by ZAKA, United Hatzalah, Israeli Police and the Shin Bet.

Though Sofer had been reported missing by 6 p.m. Friday afternoon, the search was underway by 2 a.m. on Shabbos. Vehicles with loudspeakers traveled through Jerusalem neighborhoods on Shabbat, asking locals for any information of Sofer’s whereabouts, and rabbis encouraged people to join the search Saturday night after Shabbos was over.

A friend and fellow student at Harav Tzvi Kaplan’s Yeshiva, told police the two had been hiking in the Beit Zayit area of the Jerusalem Forest, when as his friend told police, they separated and lost contact with each other as they navigated a steep incline. Sofer never emerged from the forest.

Family, friends and searchers recall that in June, another student from Lakewood, NJ, Naftali Frankel and two of his friends were kidnapped while hitchhiking home near the west bank of Jerusalem. Their bodies were found two weeks later, murdered by members of Hamas.

It was their fate and an alleged revenge attack on a Palestinian teenager that sparked the present conflict on July 8 between Israel and Palestinians living in Gaza.

A prepared statement was read by the Lakewood Township Committeeman and Emergency Services Liaison, Meir Lichtenstein, for Sofer’s parents, Rabbi and Mrs. Moshe Tzvi and Chulda Sofer, who left on Monday for Israel to help search for their son.

“We would like to thank everyone for the united effort expended for Aaron’s return,” read the statement.

Some of the agencies and organizations the Sofers thanked included: “…the U.S. Ambassadors, the consulate general, Members of Knesset, Zakah, United Hatzalah and especially the Israeli police who are coordinating and expending countless hours on the search.”

In terms of U.S. officials involved, the Sofers thanked Senators Menendez and Booker, Congressman Chris Smith and staff, the U.S. State Department, the FBI, the Israeli consulate and more.

The prepared statement concluded with an appeal for the United States government to throw the full weight of their support and resources behind the search and asked for the community’s continued support and prayer.

However Lichtenstein did not spare his own words in lashing out at the Israeli government for not getting the IDF involved in the search. “There’s a sense that not enough was done from the very, very beginning and not enough attention was paid to the disappearance of Aaron,” said Dov Hikind, an assemblyman from New York. He called on Israelis to raise the level of intensity in their search.

“So what I want to say to the Israeli government, ‘Treat Aaron as if he was an Israeli soldier missing.’ Because we know what the Israeli government does when an Israeli soldier goes missing. Every resource in the world is put into it. And Aaron is a soldier,” he said.

Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman in Israel, said the police were pursuing all avenues in their investigation including the possibility that Sofer may have fallen victim to an attack by Palestinian militants. Appeals have been made by the family to the United States and Israeli governments to use all resources to find their son.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement:

“I am deeply concerned over the disappearance of New Jersey student Aaron Sofer in Israel and I stand in solidarity with his family. My thoughts are with them and the Lakewood community during this trying time. By all accounts, Aaron is a devout and dedicated student, who travelled to Israel to enhance his knowledge and deepen his understanding of sacred Jewish texts. For yeshiva students like Aaron, there is no greater pursuit than to live and study in Jerusalem, while worshipping at Judaism’s holiest sites.

”Ever since I was notified that Aaron went missing in Israel, my office has worked very closely with the State Department, U.S. Embassy and Consular officials in Israel, and the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. While investigators are pursuing every lead, we keep Aaron and his family in our thoughts and prayers.”

As the conference concluded in Lakewood, Mayor Miller thanked all in attendance for their support and announced the launching of a website dedicated to raising funds for the urgent search: www.searchforsofer.com. Tens of thousands of dollars are poured into the search every day, as the government, the family and the many, many volunteers spare no effort to ensure the safe return of Aaron Sofer. Organizers are hoping for a generous outpouring of donations to help them move forward in the search and to set up a reward for information that will lead to Aaron’s return.

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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