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Marathon gunfight takes life of kibbutz hero



Saar Margolis, 37, was a hero who died doing what he was born to do – saving lives and protecting others. He’s one of two South Africans listed as having been killed during the recent early morning surprise Hamas attacks in Israel.

Tragically, the husband and father of two young daughters was shot by terrorists while protecting his family and the community of his cherished Kibbutz Kissufim, which is next to the Gaza Strip.

This was after a marathon gunfight, lasting several hours, fought mostly on his own. Family and friends say that with unwavering courage, he fought relentlessly until his last breath, saving many residents’ lives.

According to his family, he was the former head of security of the kibbutz for 15 years, trained to protect and serve, before recently taking up a new position with the Israeli Defence Ministry.

“We’re devastated,” said his sister, Beora Margolis, 54, who was born and raised in Johannesburg with her three siblings, Marcelle, 60; Lance, 56; and Carmel, 51. Saar is their half-brother, whom they adored. Their father, Selwyn, 86, originally from Cape Town, was the last person to see him alive.

The deplorable events that unfolded are all a haze, said Beora, who together with her family has been trying to piece together the last moments of their brother’s life.

“Saar went to my dad at about 14:00 to make sure he was safe before rushing to homes close by. We believe he ran off to rescue a mother and her kids from a nearby shelter when he was confronted by terrorists soon after seeing my father,” said Beora.

“The last time I was able to reach him to find out what was happening was at 08:04. He picked up the call, and said, ‘B, I can’t talk now.’ Those were his last words to me. The family’s agony of not knowing what was going on for hours, just waiting in fear, will haunt us,” she said.

The family is sitting shiva at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel in the Dead Sea after being evacuated with many others in the south to a place of safety. They are grieving among many others in a similar position. The hotel, which is usually home to happy holiday makers, is now a place of sadness and displacement.

“Saar was the life and soul of Kissufim. He held the kibbutz together. He was a leader, and we don’t know how the kibbutz will survive without him,” said Beora. The attack has shattered the tranquillity of this peaceful haven they have called home for many years. According to those who knew him, Saar had a “big heart and a gorgeous smile, and helped everybody”.

“We thought he was body proof, that nothing could ever happen to him, because he was always ready and prepared, a born soldier,” said Beora.

According to her, he was nervous that an attack like this would happen one day, and put in many requests for extra soldiers and security.

“He was raised in the fields like all the children here, picking avocados and apples, and working on the farm among the cows and chickens. The family insisted he be buried there,” she said, even if it meant the funeral took place during ongoing missile threats with only five people in attendance surrounded by heavy security. “Kissufim was his life,” Beora said.

On Saturday, 7 October, armed terrorists broke into the peaceful, sleepy farming collective and began their deadly rampage of slaughter and kidnappings. The kibbutz, so close to the Gaza border its residents can hear the call to prayer, was one of the hardest hit during the surprise attack.

“Saar saved many lives on that day, and prevented many more from being taken hostage. Many people owe their life to him,” Beora said.

When he heard the early morning red-alert sirens, he immediately ushered his wife, Yasmin, and two daughters, Mia, nine, and Tavor, seven, and their dogs into the safe room, telling them that he’d return as soon as he could.

“He told Yasmin he would never forgive himself if he didn’t leave the shelter to go out and protect the kibbutz. He never came back,” said Beora. They waited for him for 28 hours before they were able to emerge from the shelter.

According to Beora, her brother “lived to protect”.

“We held a memorial ceremony for him at the Beersheba Military Cemetery, and so many people attended. He was loved by so many, a true leader and hero,” Beora said.

In a Facebook message, she wrote, “My beautiful, darling, loving, baby brother. Never in a trillion, billion years did I ever think I’d see your face on TV, especially at this time among so many that were cruelly murdered by cowards that hide behind masks and who sneaked in through doors at 06:30 on a Shabbat morning, knowing that people would still be sleeping.

“As much as you loved to protect and help everyone, you did it quietly, with grace and pride. You never wanted to be on the front page, as you did it from your heart. You did everything from your heart. You fought for your country, your family, and for all families in Kibbutz Kissufim until your last breath. I know you wouldn’t have wanted to go any other way.”

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