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Perez family honours valiant son who defended Israel



The funeral service of Captain Daniel Perez, 22, the son of South African-born Rabbi Doron Perez, the head of World Mizrachi, was held this week. He was one of our own, who bravely laid down his life to save countless Jewish lives, embodying the spirit of a true hero.

The Johannesburg-born soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was murdered and abducted by Hamas terrorists on 7 October while defending his country. His body was taken into Gaza, and is still being held by Hamas. Despite this, the family held a funeral in accordance with Jewish law.

The family, which made aliya 10 years ago, was notified of his death on 17 March by the IDF based on intelligence. The news ended five months of torment as they prayed and advocated for his safe return along with all the hostages taken into Gaza.

“You will never be truly gone because a part of you lives in each and every one of us,” said his grieving sister, Adina, at her brother’s funeral on Monday, 18 March, at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem attended by hundreds of mourners. The streets of Yad Binyamin, where Daniel lived, were lined with scores of people waving Israeli flags paying respects to the fallen hero, a tank commander in the 77th battalion of the 7th “Storm from the Golan” formation, and his much-loved family, thrust into the spotlight as global advocates for the release of soldiers and hostages.

The tragic abduction of Daniel, who attended Yeshiva College in Johannesburg before making aliya, and the family’s dignified response in its time of anguish and now utter grief, has further endeared it to a community which has performed innumerable acts of chesed and prayer in Daniel’s name.

The wedding under extraordinary circumstances of Daniel’s older brother, Yonatan, 24, to Galya, took place a mere few weeks after Daniel’s disappearance. Yonatan was shot and moderately injured on 7 October after a heroic battle nearby his brother.

For the bereaved Perez family, there’s sombre consolation in knowing that Daniel didn’t endure the agony of captivity, but was taken from them swiftly without prolonged suffering. For 163 days, Rabbi Perez clung to hope and unwavering faith, maintaining steadfast belief that his beloved son was alive somewhere in the Gaza Strip. Throughout this harrowing ordeal, he has been a pillar of strength for countless families of hostages and those mourning loved ones.

This week, however, the unimaginable weight of his private grief finally surfaced. Tears streamed down his face as he delivered a heart-wrenching eulogy to a vibrant life cut tragically short. In a moment that seemed almost scripted, the skies unleashed a torrential downpour.

Rabbi Perez and his wife, Shelley, decided to use the day to honour their son and not focus on the grief and loss as they had “their whole lives to cope with that”.

“They say that parents don’t choose the child, but the child chooses the parents. Thank you for choosing us. Despite the fact that you kept us on our feet, you taught us what it’s like to be parents – that in fact there’s no control,” Rabbi Perez said.

“You not only saved the lives of many others, you may have also saved the life of your brother, who was fighting only 50m from you at Kibbutz Nahal Oz,” he said. “I thank G-d for saving Yonatan, but I don’t know why he chose you for that mission. It’s as if your life’s journey led you to be ready for that mission,” said Perez.

He described Daniel as a young man full of energy who was always surrounded by friends of all stripes. He had an adventurous spirit and loved extreme sports, especially wakeboarding. He was also determined and stubborn.

“For five months we’ve waited to hear what happened to you,” said Daniel’s sister, Shira. “We were worried you were suffering, that you were cold, not eating enough, and experiencing an unexplainable trauma. But when the army came and told us the terrible news, a weight lifted from my heart because I knew that in the past 163 days, you were alongside us throughout everything and looking after us.”

Before they were told of Daniel’s passing at the weekend, Rabbi Perez and Shira spoke at a rally at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv.

“I told the thousands in attendance about you – what a principled person, full of life, chevreman, lover of the land, and Zionist you were. I’m so proud I knew you and got to call you my big, brave brother.”

She said Daniel had written in his army diary that after his trip to Auschwitz, he understood why it was so important to serve in the army and protect Israel.

“If not me, then who?” he wrote.

“These words will accompany me for the rest of my life,” she said.

Adina recalled how supportive her brother had always been. “Your bravery, selflessness, and dedication to our country were evident in your actions, and as a result, you saved hundreds of Jewish lives. You strengthened everyone, were loved by everyone you encountered, and left an impression on their life.

“Not many have the chance to meet their heroes. I was blessed to have known mine,” she said.

Yonatan said his brother understood the responsibility of the mission he was undertaking when he led his tank team out with no clear orders to fight the terrorists on Simchat Torah.

“You understood that the fate of the country was in your hands,” he said.

“Daniel, my brother, you are a real hero. I’ll miss playing basketball against you, running with you before Shabbat, speaking to you about the army and about the difficulties of being a commander, and just sitting and talking to you in your room. But mostly, I’ll miss my best friend,” and the one he said he most wanted by his side at his wedding.

Perez’s best friend from the army, Lieutenant Raz Elghazi, called him his “soul brother”.

“How many plans we had together! Every time we were going through a dark period in the army, you would say, ‘Elghazi, you and I will finish the army, get a bag, and go to some beach in the East.’ Daniel, during all the time I’ve been fighting in Gaza, I hoped we would find you in some house, and I would put you in the tank and take you back to the border. I wouldn’t care about anything else. Brother, you fought like a lion, like a hero.”

Israel’s chief rabbi, David Lau, eulogised Perez, saying, “We have a wonderful generation, a generation of soldiers, who get up and do everything to protect the nation, to protect Torah, to protect the land. Daniel, you came here as a child to defend the country on the day of the Torah, on Simchat Torah, against those who came to destroy the nation.”

Rabbi Perez urged the Israeli government and the United States Biden administration not to forget the 134 hostages – dead and alive – still in Gaza, and to work to return them home as quickly as possible. He said only Hamas was responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and that if all hostages were returned unconditionally, the crisis would end.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Penny Aires

    Mar 21, 2024 at 3:38 pm

    Heartbreaking and tragic.
    May heart breaks for the Perez family, also for the families of all the hostages and soldiers who fell.
    May they be comforted and may they know no further tragedies and only joyful occasions.

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