‘Love and support our greatest Iron Dome’ – Perez
The head of World Mizrachi, Johannesburg-born Rabbi Doron Perez, whose son, Daniel, is believed to be held hostage in Gaza, wants him, wherever he is, to know he’s not alone.
In the depths of his anguish, the rabbi told the SA Jewish Report that if given a chance to send a message to his son, he would tell him, “Dan, you know how much your parents and family love you and how much we care about you, but I want you to know that there’s an entire people who are praying for you, who are with you, who are giving you strength. You aren’t alone. Be strong. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’re praying for you.”
It has been more than 40 days since Perez and his wife, Shelley, last heard from their son, who grew up in Johannesburg before making aliya nine years ago. Perez described Daniel as physically and mentally strong, a determined and focused young man, who could do anything he put his mind to.
Daniel, a tank commander, was stationed at the Nahal Oz army base, close to Gaza, when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel and went on a depraved killing, raping, destroying, and kidnapping rampage on 7 October.
Unbeknown to him at the time, Daniel’s older brother, Yonatan, 24, was fighting nearby.
Yonatan was later ambushed by the last remaining terrorists in the area and shot in the leg after hours of intense battle. His recovery has been described as miraculous by Perez, who says emphatically things “could have gone very differently for him”.
Perez has emerged as a beacon of resilience and unwavering faith, inspiring countless others to embrace hope in the face of deep turmoil and uncertainty. People who have come to offer him strength have left feeling stronger themselves.
“We’re not alone. If we were, it would be unimaginable,” he said.
The Perez family has received much love, support, and prayer from thousands of people near and far. The South African community, he said, feels their pain intimately, knowing both Yonatan and Daniel, who are products of the community.
“People have stepped up in extraordinary ways. One woman insists on doing our washing, and comes every day with our fresh laundry from the day before,” he said.
“If the world continued as normal while my own personal life had been turned upside down, and I was left alone to deal with such trembling and darkness, that would be unimaginable,” he said.
“It’s not a cliché to say that when people hold you up, then you can hold them up. I’m being carried by thousands all around the world who are davening for Daniel and sending messages. I don’t believe I would be able to do what I’m doing without this,” he said.
Describing it like being in the middle of the ocean in tempestuous waters, he feels like he is “being carried by this incredible wave of love and support”.
“I cannot imagine what Gilad Shalit’s family went through for five years while he was held hostage by terrorists before being released. We’re part of 239 other hostages, many of them with the most horrific, unimaginable stories. There are hundreds of other families going through what we’re going through.
“The whole of the Jewish world is coming together. It doesn’t change the fact that we must deal with it when we put our head on the pillow at night, it’s our son, but it’s different when you’re part of a catastrophe in which so many are in the same boat as you,” he said.
He also found strength in knowing that their situation could have been worse.
“I know that things could have been very different with Yonatan. If I’m honest with myself, there’s nothing good or easy about our situation, but I know it could have been worse, and we have hope for Daniel,” he said.
Recalling events on that terrible Shabbos, he told the SA Jewish Report that Yonatan called home later that afternoon with the news he had been shot, that he was in hospital, and that his brother’s tank was missing.
“Dad I’m okay. I’ve been shot, but I’m okay. Dad, you have no idea what’s going on here. I cannot explain to you,” is how the call went.
Reflecting on that ominous day, Perez said Yonatan had been home with the family in Yad Binyamin with his then fiancé, Galya Landau, when they rushed to the air raid shelter following multiple rocket alert sirens. Yonatan, an officer in the paratroopers, heard his phone ping incessantly. He was being summoned urgently to Sderot, which was under heavy attack.
He immediately sprang into action, even though he didn’t have his army weapon with him, only his personal handgun.
The family prayed, and waited for news.
Only once Perez heard exactly how events had unfolded from Yonatan’s commander a few days later, did he realise the full extent of the attack.
“I realised then that Hashem had done us an unbelievable chesed with Yonatan. Four of his friends who fought next to him were seriously injured, one shot in the back, two in the stomach. He was able to use his one friend’s gun, who was injured, and another one’s helmet, and fought for hours and hours, seeing horrific things. The jeep in front of his was hit by a rocket propelled grenade, killing three officers. His jeep narrowly missed being hit by another one.
“Yonatan was familiar with the area, having been based there himself and having visited there many times previously,” he said.
The situation was tense and fraught. He was with a mixed group of soldiers from various units coming together for the first time in the face of extreme danger.
“They were fighting blind. Luckily, Yonatan knew that base, and over the course of a couple of hours, they managed to rescue and save many people. Unfortunately, they were ambushed by the last remaining terrorists on the base, and he was shot.”
“I don’t believe what I’m doing is heroic,” Perez said. “I’ve seen heroic people with the most monstrous stories to tell. My rabbinic colleague has buried two sons, while three others are in the army.
“When you have seen the grace of G-d with one son, and you know with absolute certainty that Hashem sent him there and took him out with a relatively light injury. It’s a blessing I cannot begin to explain. That doesn’t change what’s going on with Daniel. But you can’t have one bracha and chesed impacted by another challenge and curse. That’s not how life works. We must hold it all together.”
The family has been thrust into a vortex of extreme emotions ranging from anguish to joy and gratitude over Yonatan’s healing and subsequent marriage to Galya in a ceremony described by one guest as “the holiest, saddest and happiest, chuppah”.
At first, Daniel was declared missing. Days went by, and then the army changed this status to “in all likelihood taken hostage”.
For now, the family, clings to hope. Perez also finds strength from years of being there to support colleagues, friends, and congregants who have sought his care and support during difficult times.
“We’re not alone. We have hope. Many people don’t. The Jewish people’s unity, love, and support is our greatest Iron Dome.”