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Slain soldier had last memorable Shabbos with family



Lieutenant Yaron Chitiz, 23, had the best weekend of his life when he surprised his mother, girlfriend, and friends on the Shabbos before he was shot and killed by terrorists in Gaza. Yaron, whose parents, Clive and Debbie, were both King David Linksfield alumni, hadn’t been home for 80 days as deputy commander of the Shaked battalion of the Givati Brigade.

A video taken by his brother that shows Yaron walking into his family home in Ra’anana to surprise his elated mother went viral. Debbie’s unbridled joy at seeing her youngest of five children for the first time in weeks brought home the pain and anguish suffered daily by parents of soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

His last few days were lived as if somehow his soul knew they would be his last. He danced around the bimah during a special aliya for soldiers, saw his girlfriend, was present at a baby-naming ceremony, hosted a barbeque for his friends, and played soccer.

“He did everything that warmed his heart after being away for so long,” said Debbie, who described him as “my simcha child, my lifeline, my talented child, who kept me young and on my toes”.

“He did his rounds,” said Debbie, describing Yaron as her “laatlammetjie”.

Speaking at his funeral, she said, “What an incredible Shabbat we just had. You got your aliya l’Torah, you benched Gomel, and the kehilla sang four songs for you. You danced in shul with your brothers, and I cried. I was so emotional, I didn’t realise that those were happy tears.”

Now she sheds tears of sadness. Yaron was shot on 26 December, a week before his 24th birthday.

His tragic passing brought Ra’anana to a standstill as the town erupted in grief following steady news of other soldiers’ lives lost and the devastating effects of the war throughout the country. The toll of slain soldiers in the ground offensive against Hamas is now 192.

The streets of Ra’anana were lined with thousands of residents waving Israeli flags as a procession made its way from the family home to the cemetery, while roads were blocked off to accommodate the crowds and traffic.

The Chitiz family is well known and much loved in this central Israel city. Yaron’s parents are intricately woven in the community, having been actively involved in Telfed and communal life since making aliya in 1987.

Their Shabbos table is renowned as the most lebbedik and lively. Yaron was known for his infectious, warm smile and his love for Israel, determined to fight for its existence, said his family.

During the week of shiva, they received more than 1 000 visits a day, said Debbie. “I thought I knew my son until I heard all the wonderful stories,” she said.

On the Shabbos after his funeral, thousands gathered in the central square for a moving Kabbalat Shabbat.

The Chitiz siblings, ranging in age from 23 to 38, are known far and wide in the close-knit community, and have ties to South Africa.

The oldest, Doron, was on shlichut with his wife, Gila, to Johannesburg and Cape Town during the COVID-19 pandemic. He led the choir at Sydenham Shul, and the two worked at Yeshiva College. “This is truly heartbreaking news, especially that it’s so close to home,” posted Rabbi Yehuda Stern of Sydenham Shul on Facebook.

Yaron’s death has triggered dozens of initiatives of chesed and charity in his memory.

As a die-hard Liverpool supporter, hundreds of car stickers have been printed with the words, “You will never walk alone,” demonstrating his love for the game and the team he supported.

One of his passions was hosting braais for family friends. To honour his memory, they are now hosting braais for soldiers at IDF bases throughout the country and on the frontlines in his name.

When Yaron was home for his last Shabbos, he remarked how there was more singing in Gaza on Shabbos. Doron has now created an initiative to encourage families to take on one extra song on Shabbos, or even to start singing.

Telfed Chief Executive Doron Klein, said, “Yaron connected to so many people in the community. He was loved by all who knew him. The Ra’anana community mourns the loss of such beautiful souls. Their memory will inspire us to be better people and work together for a better future in Israel. People feel sad and concerned but confident that we’ll emerge stronger and more unified from this terrible period in our history.”

Yaron’s heartbroken girlfriend, Darah Ginsberg, said, “Everyone should remember Yaron as a smiley, happy, non-complaining person, always living life to the fullest. Yaroni was filled with life, light, and love bigger than words can explain. When he came home on the weekends, he always found a way to fit everything into such a cramped and short time.”

His friends described him this week as fun loving, loyal, dedicated, and a leader. He loved reading, cycling, playing soccer, cooking, and entertaining.

“Yaroni was the best of us all. Not only was he the best, but he had the best of each of us,” said his friend, Micha Shachat. “The legendary smile, the never-ending zest for life, the huge sense of humour, the tremendous wisdom, one who didn’t waste a single second of his life.”

His family always called him the “masterpiece”, said another friend, Eitan Shmukler.

“He was the youngest brother of five, absorbed all their best attributes, and was looked up to as a role model even though he was the youngest. Among friends, Yaron was always a dominant figure, leading, laughing, and joking and being at the centre of all social circles without trying to be. He always gave as much of himself to those around him without ever expecting anything in return.”

Clive Chitiz described his heart break, saying, “I miss him so much. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for him. He died defending his country, and I’m so proud of him.”

He shared some words from a letter written by Yaron should he fall in battle, in which he expressed his gratitude to his family, friends, and girlfriend. He had written the letter on his phone, which was later given to the family to read.

In it, Yaron said, “I feel privileged to take part in the defence of our special and fantastic country. I feel part of the history that is being written now of the state of Israel.

“Mom, dad, Doron, Daniel, Dovi, Yaeli, thank you for educating me about sanctifying G-d, and kindness and love for the land. It’s thanks to all of you. If it wasn’t for the crazy family you are, who raised me and didn’t give up on me, and raised me on values and love for the country, I wouldn’t be where I am now!

“I feel proud to go in and fight Hamas under the banner of the Chitiz family and the people of Israel. Thank you very much for everything. You are a family bringing glory to the state of Israel!”

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