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Daniel’s final battle in the lion’s den



As Bnei Akiva South Africa, we’re heartbroken about the death of Daniel Perez. We extend our deepest condolences to the Perez family. We mourn with them the loss of Daniel. We daven for the return of his body along with all the remaining hostages so that he may receive a kever b’Yisrael (a dignified Jewish burial).

I remember with absolute clarity the drosha that Rabbi Doron Perez gave to Daniel at his Barmitzvah. The rabbi spoke about his joie de vivre (love of life). Daniel was always smiling and active. He had a personality that lit up a room when he walked in. He was an excellent sportsman with a tenacious spirit. I have fond memories of spending time on camp with Daniel in 2013, and his competitive spirit on the sports field. Daniel’s presence in the classroom was always apparent as he elevated his surroundings with his sense of humour and intelligence.

Daniel can be paralleled with his biblical namesake. Daniel was a “youth in whom there was no blemish, who was good looking, skilful in all wisdom, discerning in knowledge … and who had the stamina to stand and serve”. (Daniel 1:4). The Daniel of the Tanach was renamed Belteshazzar – (protector of the life of the king). Daniel Perez lived a life pursuing knowledge and leading others.

Rabbi Perez would discuss ideas of religion and leadership with his son as he commanded a group of soldiers who protected our homeland. As the king of Babylonia, representing the ruling power of the world, slandered the Jews, the other Daniel, along with his fellow Jewish advisors, stood as examples of intelligence, godliness, and morality.

Even in the blazing furnace, they walked free of their restraints. Daniel and the soldiers in the tank under his command – Tomer Leibowitz; Itai Chen; and Matan Angrest, who is still missing in action, presumed kidnapped by Hamas, defended their land under heavy fire. Showing true heroism, they fought until they could no longer. Courage in the annals of history has been redefined by Daniel and his soldiers as they acted with utmost selflessness.

Much like his namesake, Daniel was never afraid of a challenge. Upon awakening to the news of the invasion on 7 October, Daniel and his tank crew were mobilised quickly to halt the advancing genocidal hoards. He ran without hesitation into the lion’s den.

As the previous prime minister of Israel, Naftali Bennett, described it, Tzevet Perez’s tank course, mapped from its black box, read like a long strand of spaghetti, going back and forth as they fought off myriads of terrorists. Entering the lion’s den, he and his soldiers fought valiantly and prevented further destruction on that harrowing day.

This mentality of taking every challenge in his stride was typical of Daniel. He pursued every adventure, searching for fulfilment and exhilaration. Living life with passion is what gave him meaning. Moving to Israel at the age of 13, he integrated into Israeli society and took on this new journey with the same enthusiasm as he always did.

The news of his captivity on 7 October shook us all to our core. We cried, davened, sang, and learned Torah for his return. The fervour that was felt in those early days didn’t wane and won’t cease until his body is returned. We have sat in tears as we prayed for his safety. We have learned Torah with lumps in our throats for his return.

However, we’ve also baked challah with smiles on our faces in merit of his home coming. We danced on Rosh Chodesh Adar with Daniel on our minds. This joie de vivre is a lesson we’ve all taken from him. His thirst for life is a beacon of hope for all of us.

The news of his passing broke us, and we share the pain of the Perez family at this time. The effect Daniel and the whole Perez family had on this community is immeasurable. The face of religious Zionism was revolutionised through their work, and the rejuvenation of Bnei Akiva and the Yeshiva Mizrachi Campus is due to the labour of love that they undertook as a family.

We continue to daven constantly, as the Daniel of biblical times did. “Incline your ear, oh G-d, and listen; open Your eyes and see our desolation. Oh Lord, be attentive and act, don’t delay for Your sake, my G-d.” (Daniel 9:18-19). We long to see our brothers and sisters held in captivity walking on Israeli soil, in health and tranquillity. We pray wholeheartedly for the protection of those standing guard over our land. We cry out for everlasting peace, the rebuilding of our Beit HaMikdash, and the banishment of grief.

We daven that the Perez family, along with klal Yisrael, know no more sorrow and experience only smachot in the future. May they be guided by Hashem continuously, and receive comfort knowing that Daniel’s courageous acts prevented further destruction on 7 October. May they be able to continue to uplift those around them. May Hashem grant them the strength to live lives infused with Daniel’s joie de vivre.

Daniel, you’ll be so sorely missed. Even though our connection may have drifted, the mark that you left on me and the entire community is indelible. Your joy of life will forever remind me to strive above the mundane in search of adventure. We’ll carry on as individuals, as a movement, as a community, and as a nation, grateful to have had a hero like you in our midst. We’ll live on in your memory, and carry on fulfilling your mission in this world. For now, as your namesake, Daniel, is blessed at the end of his book: “Go to your end; you will rest, then arise for your portion at the end of days.” (Daniel 12:13)

May his soul be bundled in the bundle of eternal life. May his memory be a blessing.

B’virkat Torah veavodah

  • Saul Joseph is the national chairperson of Bnei Akiva. He’s also a fourth-year medical student at the University of the Witwatersrand, teaches gemara at Yeshiva College, and volunteers for the Hatzolah Assist Unit.

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