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Daniel Perez’s heroism immortalised in song gone viral

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As we commemorated Yom Hazikaron this week, a song in honour of a 22-year-old Johannesburg-born soldier murdered by Hamas touched hearts across the globe.

The memory of Captain Daniel Perez, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier who was tragically abducted and killed by Hamas on 7 October while defending his country, continues to live on through the song, A Hero. The roots of the song, created by his cousin, Elchanan Perez, and musician Elad Engler go back to 7 October.

Daniel, the son of South African-born Rabbi Doron Perez, the head of World Mizrachi, attended Yeshiva College in Johannesburg before making aliya from South Africa 10 years ago.

Elchanan, whose side of the family originates in Morocco, recalled the turmoil after 7 October. “We didn’t know what was going on with Daniel. Was he missing, kidnapped, hurt? It was a lot for his family, for me, for my family. All my family worried about Daniel and his fate for the next 163 days, and were fighting for his safe return.”

He created an Instagram account titled, “Good deeds for Daniel’s safe return”, through which people around the world sent wishes for Daniel’s safe return.

“I also told my friends about Daniel, how I was coping, and how the family was coping when they asked,” said Elchanan, whose own brother has been on duty as a soldier in Gaza for about 160 days. “I have a good friend, a musician, and one day, I suggested, ‘Why don’t we sit down and write a song in the hope of Daniel’s return? When he comes back home, he’ll hear the song.’”

Unfortunately, before they could start writing it, they received the tragic news that Daniel was killed on 7 October. They put the song aside “because it was a tough time”, Elchanan says. “I wasn’t thinking about the song.

“A week or two ago, we sat down, and wrote an amazing song with great words. The support that Daniel’s family got from friends, strangers, and family was amazing. The song tells Daniel’s story, of his bravery, and the courage he had on that day. To all who knew Daniel, it’s a great, emotional song. People have heard the song around the world because of the Instagram account.”

Elchanan says the song is special because of “how it explains the story of a hero, and it’s close to Daniel’s story. What’s unique is it’s for Daniel, for his memory. It does tell the story of others, but the song is for Daniel.”

The lyrics convey a deep sense of longing, loss, and love for someone who has passed away, possibly in a war or conflict setting.

Although the song uses the words “I” and “you”, it doesn’t represent how Elchanan talked to Daniel. “We had a very different way of speaking to each other,” he says.

The song begins with a soldier’s promise to stay alive in the battlefield. It describes the scene of the battlefield and the reactions and words of the soldier. It speaks of his mom waiting and crying, him being missed and being remembered as a hero. It marvels at Daniel’s desire to guard his country and leave behind everything important to him. The song ends with Elchanan assuring Daniel not to worry. He’ll take care of himself and his mom.

Elchanan says his relationship with Daniel was at first, a “normal cousin relationship, but in the months before 7 October, we started chatting and connected more. He helped me a lot. We started really getting close. I actually spoke to him the day before [that tragic October date].

“When I got the terrible news, I was watching a movie. I was heartbroken. It was very hard. But he died, got killed, for me.”

Hundreds of mourners attended Daniel’s funeral on 18 March at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem. People also thronged the streets of Yad Binyamin, where Daniel lived, with Israeli flags to pay respects to their fallen hero, who served as a tank commander in the 77th battalion of the 7th “Storm from the Golan” formation.

Daniel’s family, meanwhile, was thrust into the spotlight as global advocates for the release of soldiers and hostages. Daniel’s older brother, Yonatan, 24, was shot and moderately injured on 7 October following a heroic battle in the same area as his brother. He went ahead with his wedding a few weeks later.

Elchanan has also made a movie about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “I dedicated the movie to the memory of Daniel especially, but also to his two teammates who were killed and one teammate who returned after being kidnapped.”

The movie is titled Shrinking Silence. “Originally, I wrote it last year, and then I stopped. After what happened to Daniel, and with my brother being in Gaza, I decided that we would put the movie out to create awareness of PTSD – a terrible thing. In the movie, you see how the soldiers are broken, and their other experiences.”

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