June 15, 2024
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Reflections From Har Herzl: Daniel Perez, HY”D

Most Yerushalmim visit Har Herzl once a year—on Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Israeli soldiers). Sadly, we have all been there many more times this year.

Over the last 75 years, over 3,000 soldiers have been buried on Har Herzl. Their graves are neatly laid out in rows that comprise sections commemorating the many wars we have fought to establish and defend the state.

For thousands of years, Jews have died and been buried around the world. When we moved on to other lands, their graves were forgotten. A Jew buried in Eretz Yisrael, in our final station, is forever linked to our people.

Burial in the military cemetery on Har Herzl means even more. It signifies and eternalizes commitment to and sacrifice for the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael. Those buried here are holy martyrs, the tzaddikim by whose gravesides Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, prayed. Their burial plots on Har Herzl reflect their special place in the next world.

 

Har Herzl Today—Adar Sheini 5784

Since Simchat Torah, hundreds of new graves have been dug—so many that a new section was needed. In the past, soldiers were buried on the center of the hill. They are now being buried on the right flank.

It is Chodesh Adar, less than a week away from Purim, a time when we are supposed to increase simcha. How can we be happy this year? How can we celebrate while mourning the loss of hundreds of lives, crying for over 100 hostages, suffering together with thousands of wounded, and davening for tens of thousands on the front?

 

Captain Daniel Perez, HY”D

Captain Daniel Perez, HY”D

Today, we honored Captain Daniel Perez, HY”D. Daniel was kidnapped from the front on October 7. His family went 163 days without any word from him, without knowing whether he was alive or dead. Last night, they finally received word; today, we were at Har Herzl.

It was a strange funeral, even for a soldier and even during this war. As Hamas holds Daniel’s body, we buried only his blood—the blood found in and around his tank and on his shirt left behind by the kidnappers. We had hoped that his soul still resided in his body in Gaza. We now know that it exited together with the blood we buried today.

Every soldier and civilian is precious, and each death and funeral is painful, but Daniel’s hit home harder. He and his family, like me and mine, are olim. They made aliyah 10 years ago from South Africa in order to join the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael. Their connection now runs deeper. They join the many families who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our people and our land.

Additionally, Daniel is the son of Rav Doron and Shelly Perez. As executive director of World Mizrachi, Rav Doron is a colleague and close personal friend of mine and many other Jewish professionals and laypeople worldwide.

 

We Cried Together

Over the past months, news of Rav Doron’s kidnapped son has spread around the Jewish world. Rav Doron has become an English-speaking spokesperson for the hostages and their families, and Daniel has been the focus of prayers around the world. From America to Australia and South Africa to South America, prayerful hearts now mourn with the Perez family.

World Jewry was well represented at the funeral. Family, friends and comrades-in-arms were joined by Jews from tens of countries. Staff and students from tens of yeshivot and seminaries stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the directors of tens of Israeli and international Jewish organizations.

The skies cried with us as well. Though the day started sunny, when the funeral began, the skies opened and cried along with the crowd.1 After more than a week without rain, more than half an inch fell during the funeral.

 

A True Hero

Like so many of our soldiers, Daniel was a true hero. His tank’s treads tell us that he and his crew fought off streams of terrorists on their way to murder civilians in Nachal Oz, Sa’ad, Kfar Aza, and beyond. Instead of firing from safe cover, Daniel sought out, engaged and neutralized tens of terrorists over a period of two hours. Even after he was injured, Daniel continued fighting until he died of loss of blood.

Daniel and his crew were part of the heroic first line of defense. Though facing a surprise attack and outnumbered by thousands of terrorists, they fought (literally) till the last drop of blood and the last bullet and gave reinforcements time to arrive and avoid a greater tragedy.

Daniel was deeply committed to defending the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. He sacrificed his life doing so. He died as he lived—as one who was moseir nefesh for Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.

 

The Son of Heroes

Daniel modeled himself after his heroic parents, Rabbi Doron and Shelly Perez, who have devoted their lives to these same values. After making aliyah from South Africa and serving in the IDF, Rav Doron and Shelley embarked on a 15-year shelichut to the South African Mizrachi community. Rav Doron simultaneously filled multiple leadership roles, including executive director of Mizrachi South Africa, senior rabbi of the Mizrachi Shul, and head of the Yeshiva College, the first and largest Torah school in Southern Africa.

Ten years ago, after 15 years of community-building, Rav Doron and Shelley gave it all up to raise their family in Israel. Upon returning to Eretz Yisrael 10 years ago, they committed themselves to rejuvenating Religious Zionism worldwide. Rav Doron revitalized World Mizrachi, which has now expanded to over 50 countries. His passion, commitment and hard work have returned the hashkafa that integrates Torat Yisrael with Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael to a central place within the global Jewish community.

 

What We Celebrate

Daniel and his family represent the best of our values. They remind us that we are part of a people who care deeply about and commit themselves wholly to what truly matters. We mourn the loss of Daniel—but we celebrate families like the Perezes, whose commitment to our values enables them to raise children like Daniel.

Our people have always shown mesirut nefesh, including the willingness to die for our principles. Thankfully, today, our martyrs die for more than just principles. They sacrifice their lives to defend our people and our land. They die as part of our return to and rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael.

Though we have much to mourn, we also have much to celebrate. The simcha that begins in Chodesh Adar is rooted in Hashem’s miraculous salvation of the Jewish people in Persia and Mitzrayim. This year, we celebrate the fact that Hashem continues foiling the plans of our evil enemies and ensuring our survival: ba’yamim ha’heim, ba’zman ha’zeh.

We thank Hashem for allowing us to be part of the Jewish people in His Land. Though we still face yisurim (challenges), they are birth pangs of redemption, not exilic persecution. We thank Hashem for helping us raise children who can both study His Torah and defend His land and people, children who can be moser nefesh in both the beit midrash and the battlefield. In the words of Chief Rabbi Meir Lau at the funeral: “The two are not a contradiction.”

 

We Will Live

Daniel’s blood, which we buried today, is a continuation of a long history of blood we have sacrificed in Hashem’s name. It began with the blood of the brit milah performed by our Avot and the blood of the Korban Pesach sacrificed by the first generation of our people in Mitzrayim, and it continued with the mesirut nefesh of generations of our ancestors.

Daniel’s blood reflects our commitment to Hashem’s people and land. It expresses our recognition that Hashem has returned us to His land and our appreciation of the opportunity to return to and defend it and His people.

We may have buried Daniel’s blood, but we know that, inspired by his and his family’s commitment and values, we will b’ezrat Hashem continue to live and thrive as a people in His land.

2“ואמר לך בדמיך חיי, ואמר לך בדמיך חיי”

“And I said to you, ‘In your blood, live; in your blood, live!’”


Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.

 

1 See Sanhedrin 47a.

2 Yechezkel 16:6.

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