Elchanan Kalmanson and his family - courtesy Kalmanson family

Hagay Lober is an Israeli actor and rabbi who will be in the New York area in a few weeks to perform “October 7,” an adaptation of a one-man show he wrote for his Aspaklaria theater company 20 years ago. It tells the story of Nadav, who is attempting to move on with his life and raise his three children alone after losing his wife, Orly, in a terror attack. Hagay hopes to bring solace with his show about the mourning process, particularly in the wake of the death of his son, reserve Staff Sergeant Elisha Yehonatan Lober, during fighting in Gaza. He hopes his play will bring comfort to others during wartime.


Also last week I had the opportunity to speak with Yosi Shnaider of Holon in central Israel. Yosi is a cousin of Shiri Bibas, who was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists along with her now famous red-headed babies, 4-year-old Ariel and 9-month-old Kfir. The infant Kfir has now marked his first birthday in captivity, somewhere in Gaza.

My connection to Yosi was made by Shmuel Klear of Cedarhurst, who met Yosi on one of the many solidarity missions to Israel that emanated from Jewish communities around the world. Yosi is a real estate agent, but since October 7 his business and indeed his life have been on hold as he travels the world meeting with dignitaries and leaders of states to make sure attention to the plight of the kidnapped family does not wane.

Over Chanukah in December, 2023, we participated in a BBQ for soldiers stationed in the community of Otniel, located in the southern Judaean Mountains, south of Hebron. At the time, we were invited to visit the community Rabbi, Rav Benny Kalmanson, as he is known.

Just four weeks prior to our visit, on Shabbos-Yom Tov, Rav Benny’s sons heard that Jews were under siege in communities near Gaza. They took their automatic weapons and hightailed it to the Gaza Envelope region (Otef Aza), the populated areas in the Southern District of Israel that are within four miles of the Gaza Strip border.

The two Kalmanson brothers helped over a hundred Israelis reach safety while engaging the attacking terrorists in a firefight. Elchanan Kalmanson, the elder son, was killed and his brother, Menachem, was shot in his upper arm. Elchanan left behind a wife, Shlomit, and five children. At the time of his death Elchanan’s wife was expecting their sixth child. Over the last few weeks Mrs. Kalmanson gave birth to a boy named Elchanan Meir ben Elchanan Meir.

In Otniel we sat with Rabbi Benny and his wife in their home just six weeks after they got up from shiva for their son. Though the shiva period had already elapsed, we still had the opportunity to do what we could to comfort the mourners. Rav Benny was philosophical and talkative, though it was clear there was sadness in his eyes.

My sense at the time and upon reflecting on that visit and experience, was that the rav and his family were hurting, but they also recognized that they were leaders in a settlement of 160 families in the heartland of the Jewish state, and their task was to be stoic and continue to lead.

Hagay Lober, as mentioned, lost his son Elisha Yehonatan in Gaza as well over the last few weeks. His daughter-in-law, Aviya, is due to give birth this week. In our conversation last week, Hagay told me that this will be their second child and they know it will be a boy and the plan is to name him after his father, Elisha Yehonatan.

I talked with Hagay over the phone and he spoke about the pain and difficulty involved in dealing with this new reality. He said that it is something that they are dealing with on a very personal level in terms of the loss, but he added that the spirit of the country is strong and that strengthens him and his family.

Hagay sent me a photo of Yehonatan depicting a young man with beard and payos, and I asked Hagay if Yehonatan was Hasidic and if so, to which sect he belonged. He said his son’s Rebbe was the Ribbono Shel Olam, and that was Who he followed.

Over last Shabbos, Meitar Eliyahu of Karnei Shomron gave birth to her first boy after two girls. Her husband, Sergeant First Class (res.) Yedidya Eliyahu, lost his life in Gaza three months ago. The announcement of the birth of the baby was issued on Sunday and said: “With praise and gratitude to G-d for all the kindness and abundance, we are happy to announce the birth of our son.” The announcement was signed, Yedidya, obm, and Meitar Eliyahu.

Yedidya’s brother Elian wrote: “The blessed G-d should raise this child for his mother in peace and happiness and may he see the vengeance of his father’s blood and the complete redemption soon.”

A few weeks ago, at the Torah Umesorah conference in Florida, we heard from Shai Graucher, the indefatigable leader of a movement, on his organization’s efforts to fill the many voids left in so many families through these battlefield losses of young soldiers who are driven to protect the land and people of Israel to the maximum extent.

Shai and his team assist families during their most painful and distressful times. He visits shiva homes, rachmana litzlan, almost non-stop, most of them with young mothers sitting on low chairs and small children sitting on their laps. The same situation we observed in the Kalmanson home two months ago, you can see in the many photos online that depict sadness and strength, intense grieving over a loss while reinvigorating one’s faith in the land and people of Israel.

At the Torah Umesorah conference, Shai spoke of a group of about thirty women who had suffered the loss of their husbands in Gaza while sustaining small children at home and expecting the arrival of another in the coming weeks and months.

This is just one small glimpse into the price and heavy toll of war. Today, there are scores of young widows as well as grieving parents who have lost children and grandchildren of whom they are fiercely proud.

Independence Day and the Day of Remembrance—Yom HaZikaron—will be different this year. Israel is at war with a terror group and indeed on another level, Jewish communities are also at war because of the prolonged nature of the battle with Hamas combined with the political pressure on the Jewish state to compromise on eliminating Hamas.

Hamas is not just a terror group, but they are especially proficient in the use of information technology and propaganda to increase terror. When in history was there an enemy that took a one-year-old child hostage and refused Red Cross visits and the release of any information regarding the child’s health or whether they were alive or not.

Actually, it did happen before, and that was during the Holocaust, when 1.5 million children were murdered among the six million Jewish victims.

Now there is talk of a ceasefire connected to the release of some Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, some convicted of violent crimes, including murder.

In the meantime, it remains to be seen what will happen in the days and weeks ahead. On the phone the other day, Shai Graucher told me that among his numerous tasks are now a series of brisim (circumcisions) and shalom zachors. There is a joy bound up with the sadness in Israel today, but most importantly, they are strong. We are strong.


Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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