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‘Angel in the surf’ leaves legacy after beach tragedy



What started as a seaside picnic ended in tragedy for a Johannesburg family, when, on 14 December 2022, father of five Dovi Hochstadter (39) rushed into the ocean to help his son, ultimately saving his child but sacrificing his own life.

“This holiday was a break we were looking forward to,” says his wife, Yocheved “Chevi” Hochstadter. “We met my sister for a picnic at Glenmore Sands Beach [in KwaZulu-Natal]. Our 11-year-old son, Daniel, went into the water. Dovi commented how calming the waves were for Daniel to unwind after the year. Within minutes, Daniel, who was swimming with kids close to the shore, was taken out by a current.

“Dovi went in after him, and from then, everything was a blur. We saw them from a distance, Dovi holding Daniel high above the waves. The lifeguard wasn’t there, but my sister, Michal, got some men into the lifeguard room to fetch boards and swim to them. One of the men told Dovi and Daniel that he could take only one of them. Dovi sent us parting messages of his great love for us, and sent Daniel with the words, ‘Go swim, my boy, swim, I love you.’

“Daniel, who was protesting being saved instead of his father, was brought back quickly. Dovi was caught in a whirlpool and when the next swimmer reached him, it was already too late.”

Someone who was with the family directly after the tragedy was inspired to write a poem titled, An angel in the surf. It describes how “Dovi’s light was so bright, it took an ocean to put it out. Angels are not meant to swim, because angels are meant to fly.”

Speaking from Israel, his twin, Barak Hochstadter, says, “We were strongly connected from birth. He was always looking after me – my protector.” Describing his brother as “an excellent sportsman”, he says their happy childhood was filled with similar interests and friends. They never fought, and did everything together.

He admired how calm his brother was, even in a challenge. Nineteen years ago, his twin “was very sick, and they didn’t think he would make it. But he pulled through, thank G-d. It was like he was given a second lease on life, able to build a family. When he was sick, I dreamed he would get married and that helped us through that time.

“Dovi died the way he lived – with complete sacrifice. He was never for himself,” he says. “For example, every day, he would phone a mother whose son had passed away. A petrol attendant cried when he heard of his passing. Dovi visited our parents every day. He ensured that people of all ages felt welcome at shul, and deeply appreciated going back to shul after the pandemic.”

His sister, Sara Kaplan, says, “He loved his wife and children so much, and they will always know that. Many people considered him their best friend. When he gave Barmitzvah lessons, he was able to help boys who struggled to learn. Somehow, they felt his warmth and were comfortable learning with him. He was a true tzaddik. He left a legacy of being happy with your life, having your priorities straight, and treating others with love and respect no matter who they are.”

His brother-in-law, Yehuda Markovitz, says, “He had a deep joy inside of him, an unwavering trust that everything would be good. It’s no coincidence that his last words were of care and concern and that his last acts were superhuman acts of service.”

His brother-in-law, David Berelowitz, also expressed his pain in a poem: “You swam for your son. You swam for the young and bright. You swam for his future. You swam for us all.”

“Every minute of his day was dedicated to serving his family or serving Hashem. He used his simplicity to mask his greatness,” say friends Rochi and Bryan Silke.

Chevi Hochstadter says she’s certain that “Dovi didn’t view his final act as one of heroism. His existence was completely selfless. I’m aware of two other times he saved lives. In his small daily actions, he was building lives in a profound manner.”

She says Hatzolah stepped in to assist immediately after her husband passed away. “I don’t think we know the magnitude and extent of the many ‘behind the scenes’ roles that it plays. Whether it was organising flights, packing up accommodation, taking care of our kids, staying with Daniel in hospital, supporting our parents, organising for Dovi to be brought back, and ensuring a smooth and quick burial, Hatzolah took care of it all. I want them to know that we’re eternally grateful and that we sensed their love and support in a most significant way throughout those early days.”

The couple had a fairytale love story. “I met Dovi in January 2007 in Jerusalem,” she says. “I made aliya from South Africa with my family when I was eight. I was studying remedial teaching, and Dovi was studying at yeshiva. He grew up in Johannesburg, one of six children. His family and school describe him as a brilliant cricketer, an excellent student, a natural leader, and a friend who was always on the lookout for others.”

They married just four months later, and came to South Africa for a visit soon afterwards, which turned into a permanent move. “Dovi studied, taught, and worked for a property business. We had four girls and a boy. Our home became a girls’ home, but Dovi had his prince. In spite of a hectic schedule, Dovi was energised, positive, and fun. He treated me like a queen. He danced through life until his final hour.

“Dovi was able to leave this world secure in the knowledge that we have the most incredible parents and siblings who have been holding us up,” she says. “I’m truly humbled by the outpouring of love and support for our family. I thank the community, Hatzolah, Zaka, and each individual and family who has carried us through this most painful time in our lives.

“People can help by carrying on Dovi’s mitzvot,” says his brother. “To see such a tragedy and walk away unchanged would be an even bigger tragedy. It starts with putting our arms around each other – small actions – choosing one person in need of support, and greeting people as Dovi would, with a full heart.”

Even those who didn’t know Hochstadter well feel devastated. Community member Rabbi Ilan Herrmann planned a Chanukah event in his honour, even though he knew him only in passing. Says Herrmann, “The Maccabeans put their lives at risk to save their fellow Jew. Dovi was a modern-day Maccabee who put his life on the line for his family. On Chanukah, we light the oil – symbolic of a transcendent quality that rises to the top. Dovi, who demonstrated such heroism and transcendence, is a blessing to his family, the community, and the Jewish people.”

  • To send messages of support to the Hochstadter family, email

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