Eli Mo Zimbalist, Hyd

I have not written since the first few weeks of the war. I’ve felt a little frozen in time. I remember seeing someone post in December that it was something like October 75th. And it really hit home. Because it has felt like we have not had any closure. War. Hostages. Antisemitism. It just keeps on coming.

I have never been shy about sharing my feelings on these pages. But after the initial reactions to the breakout of war, I did not feel that I had anything new to contribute. And I definitely was wary of expressing the depth over how torn I have felt. Sadness. Compassion. Hatred. Anger. Guilt. Fear. Rage. Pride. There are so many different emotions that have run through me over these months.

Whenever I have been asked how I have been doing, I have basically had the same response. “We are OK, I guess. Worried about our kids. Like everyone else.”

After all, one son-in-law has been in the reserves since October 8th. Non-stop. His job? Well, because he was injured in a prior war and was taken out of combat, his job is planning military funerals. Yeah. I know.

Another son-in-law has done a couple of stints in the reserves as well, serving as an officer in the air force. And our son who was living in Phoenix, sold off his business, broke his lease, and moved back to Israel within the first couple weeks after the attacks. His first tour of duty was in the Jerusalem region. And he was just recalled (from learning in Yeshiva) two weeks ago for a second tour—this time in the Shomron, where they are under fire literally on a daily basis.

If you haven’t noticed, I am being purposely vague. I am not sure what I can and can’t disclose. And I want to protect their privacy.

We are not unique. Everyone we know has someone in active duty or in the reserves. Often several someones. Our shul, like many others, is filled with families of soldiers. Which means that every time we turn around, we are reminded of the real risks and dangers that our kids face, daily. I have kids serving. Nephews and nieces. Neighbors. There are just so many; we worry about them all.

They are all amazing. They are all incredible.

They don’t tell us everything they see. They don’t want us to know. I have personally participated in a discussion between one kid and his parents as he made clear to them that if he is ever kidnapped they are to do NOTHING to pressure the country to release terrorists in order to free him. How can he think his parents could honor that wish? It is a generation of heroes.

There is no one who does not know the family of a fallen soldier or victim of the initial invasion of October 7. I can count at least half a dozen families who we know who have lost at least one member. People we made aliyah with. People whose kids went to school with ours. People who we know. And every loss is heartbreaking.

This week was especially difficult. The news of the tragic loss in battle of Eli Mo Zimbalist, HY’D, was the hardest yet. Eli Mo’s family are among the founders of our shul. They live a couple hundred yards away from us and we have watched him and his siblings grow into young adults literally in front of our eyes.

To say that he was the nicest, sweetest kid is an understatement. When Rabbi Rosner got up to give his very moving hesped, my phone started to ping with incoming messages. “Wait a second Shmu, was Eli Mo part of YOUR community?” Yes, he was. And always will be.

If you watched his levayah, you heard people mention how he was a master builder. How he built pergolas, decks, mechitzot, and shtenders for the shul. And yes, he built the pergola for our house. Our backyard deck. Our front yard swing. In fact, just last week I saw his father and asked him when Eli Mo was scheduled to get out of the army—because I had another project for him.

He had a huge heart. Always ready to show up when there was a need. Pergola for the shul sukkah? Eli Mo was there to help. Special dividers for shul during COVID? Call Eli Mo. Shtender for your makom? Eli Mo to the rescue. And he did everything in a responsible and dependable manner. Just the nicest kid ever.

I have been thinking about this a lot these past few days. Our shul is a lot like a bungalow colony. Everyone knows everyone. And for the old-timers, we’ve literally watched the kids grow up and shared a common pride and love for them and their accomplishments. Eli Mo was no different.

I remember him as a little kid. I remember him as a teenager, learning how to work with his hands. I remember him as an older teen, as he developed those skills and was setting up for what would have been an amazing career. And I remember him in shul, with his father and brother. Showing up. Quietly going about making sure everything was set just so. But with a quick smile and sense of being comfortable with everyone around him and wanting them to feel comfortable with him.

I am still in shock. I cannot come to grips with the fact that he is gone. I am devastated. I can’t believe that such a promising young man was taken from us. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I can’t accept it.

I am dreading the shivah call. I am dreading seeing his parents. His siblings. And feeling some of their pain. Because it is awful. And it keeps going.

Our kids are still serving, getting drafted and fighting for us. They are still dying. And every time we see a kid we’ve known and loved since they were small (yes, our own children too) the love and concern we feel overwhelms. Because you never know who is the next Eli Mo.

We hope and pray that he is the last loss we face. We fear that there may still be more to come. n

Shmuel Katz, his wife, Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July 2006. Before making aliyah, Shmuel was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at shmuel@katzfamily.co.il. Read more of Shmuel Katz’s articles at 5TJT.com.


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