Nearly 400 people gathered at Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison on Saturday night, February 3, to hear a special presentation by Jen Airley on “Divrei Chizuk, Presenting the Next Step of Am Yisrael, and Healing the Soul of the Chayalim and Their Families.” Airley is the mother of Sgt. Binyamin Meir Airley, HY”D, a 21-year-old soldier who was killed fighting in northern Gaza after entering a house occupied by Hamas.
Board member Avi Tobias introduced Airley, noting that he was a member of the shul’s Israel mission and their first stop was to pay a shiva call at the Airley home. It was then that he gained a profound understanding of the passage in Kohelet that says it is “better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting.”
Airley began her presentation by talking about the importance of emunah and bitachon and incorporating them into our lives. She noted that she had not given much thought to the order of the Ten Commandments that were read that week, but saw that the first and last commandments are like “bookends” that encapsulate everything in between. “I am your God” is understandable as the first commandment. “You shall not covet” as the last one takes a little understanding. “If you have trust in Hashem, you never have to worry about what others have,” Airley said. “Hashem gives you exactly what you are supposed to have.”
She then presented a brief history of the family’s move to Israel 17 years ago and Binyamin’s difficulty in finding a school that “fit.” Although he was not an easy child, they had a special connection and were quite close.
While he was a teenager, Airley and her son had a “code” to communicate that he was all right no matter how late he stayed out or when he was busy while away at school. He would text “I’m alive” to his mother without a need to elaborate. He was in Meron at the site of the tragic scaffolding collapse in 2021 and texted the code to his mother even before she knew what had happened. She instinctively knew something was wrong on the day he died when repeated requests for a text were unanswered. Ironically, he was not supposed to be on duty at the time of his death, but was filling in for another soldier who was recovering from a minor injury.
Binyamin Airley was ready to die for the land so that all of the Jewish people would be able to live in our homeland. At the age of 16 he wrote a list of 55 things he wanted to do in life. This was not a list of personal desires; it outlined such goals as being in an elite army unit, praying with more kavana, not thinking badly of others, and doing more chesed. He had accomplished approximately 90% of the list by the time he was killed.
Airley felt that “Binyamin died the way he lived—to bring holiness, support Eretz Yisrael and help other people.” His list provided guidance and kept him going in the right direction.
Bookmarks were available with some of Binyamin’s aspirations printed on the front and space on the back for people to write their own list. Binyamin crammed so much living into his short life and had a significant impact on others. He influenced fellow army members to make a minyan, even getting a man to participate despite vehement protests of “But I’m not religious!” The man came to Binyamin’s shiva and shared that he now makes Kiddush on Friday nights for his family.
Binyamin’s neshama continues to live on. The website his family established in his memory asks that people take on acts of chesed and/or mitzvot; the family has received stacks of letters and emails listing activities that people have taken upon themselves in his merit.
One project the family is undertaking is the building of a facility to provide spiritual renewal for the soul in addition to physical rehabilitation. This effort, in addition to several projects on their website, is the way the Airley family is transforming their grief into a source of healing.
“Hashem will make this happen; we are only the messengers,” Airley said. “Nobody looks back at their life with regret saying that they did too much, only perhaps regretting that they did not do enough.”
Rabbi Steven Miodownik of Highland Park’s Congregation Ahavas Achim was in attendance at the program with his family. “It isn’t easy, and it can be painful to listen to the personal journey of a parent whose son was heroically lost in battle protecting the Jewish nation. It is our obligation to feel the distress of a fellow Jew and it is an important part of our connection to the Jewish people to help them.”
Suzanne and Jason Jurkevich had heard about the Airley family from reports of the recent mission Ohr Torah’s Rabbi Sariel Malitzky led to Israel. “When we heard she was coming to our area, we wanted to hear and show support for her, her family and Israel,” said Suzanne.
For more information and/or to sign up for one of the chesed challenges or make a donation, visit: https://airley.org/