World Mizrachi head awaits news of missing son
The head of World Mizrachi, Rabbi Doron Perez, and his wife, Shelley, have endured agonising uncertainty this week, waiting endlessly for news of their son, believed to be missing in action near Gaza.
With their hearts balancing between hope and anguish, they await news of Daniel, 22, who has been uncontactable since Saturday, 7 October following Hamas’ large scale, unprecedented, and surprise Israeli onslaught.
Their older son, Yonatan, was shot during the mayhem. He’s said to be recovering from his wounds at home. He and his fiancé are due to get married next week, and what was meant to be a joyful time for the family has turned into a torturous waiting game of not knowing.
Though hundreds of Israeli families face similar dread, the plight of the well-known Perez family has brought the horrors of the past weekend right into the hearts and homes of the local community to which he and his family are inextricably linked.
On Monday, 9 October, thousands of people gathered at the Yeshiva Mizrachi campus in Johannesburg, overflowing the large synagogue, as well as at separate venues around the country, in a show of unity, strength, and faith to pray for the safety of Israel and its soldiers, the safe return of all hostages, and for peace.
Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein addressed the crowds, saying the gathering was one way of drawing strength from each other during this distressing time.
He mentioned two “very special young men” who grew up in the community.
Yonatan, Goldstein said, was called up on Shabbat and Shemini Atzeret by his commanding officer to help defend the south.
“He went down and bravely fought. He was shot in the leg and taken to hospital, and is on the way to recovery but still needs our prayers,” Goldstein said.
“His brother, Daniel, who had his Barmitzvah in this shul, was stationed at the Nahal Oz base close to the border with Gaza, which was overrun by terrorists, and he’s missing in action.”
He said the brothers were examples of the “awesome heroes of the people of Israel” who have been “subjected to a savagery and a barbarism that knows no limits”.
Also on Monday, leading rabbonim read psalms at an online convening of members of the Mizrachi movement.
The deputy chief executive of World Mizrachi, Rabbi Danny Mirvis, said, “We’re desperately waiting to hear from their son, Daniel”. There was increasing concern about his whereabouts and well-being.
According to recently available information, Daniel and his tank crew are classified as “missing” as opposed to “captive” as there’s no clear evidence that they have been taken to Gaza. It also seems that the area their tank is located in isn’t yet fully under Israeli military control, with battles continuing.
The Perez family is deeply appreciative for the ongoing tefillot and the outpouring of love and support coming their way, and says it senses the great strength and unity of am Yisrael (the people of Israel) at this time.
Perez, who has been with his family in Israel awaiting news, was born and raised in Johannesburg. He made aliya after school when he was 18. He went on to study for 10 years in Israel’s leading yeshivot, served in the Israel Defense Forces as part of the Hesder programme, and completed his rabbinic ordination and a Bachelor of Education majoring in Jewish philosophy. During his 15-year shlichut in South Africa, Perez fulfilled multiple leadership roles, as executive director of Mizrachi South Africa; senior rabbi of Mizrachi Shul; and head of Yeshiva College. He is the executive chairperson of the World Mizrachi, a position he has held since he returned to Israel nine years ago.
Perez is the author of the book Leading the Way, and a sought-after speaker and scholar-in-residence in communities in Israel and around the world.
“He’s my close friend and mentor,” said Rabbi Daniel Kaplan, the executive director of Mizrachi South Africa and the Yeshiva Mizrachi Community.
“It has been a distressing time. You can’t imagine. Rabbi Perez has a lot of faith, but it’s very hard.
“We don’t question Hashem because we don’t understand the full picture. We see only through the keyhole, we don’t get to open the door to see the whole picture. It’s horrific, but as much as we don’t understand, we have to have continuous faith,” he said.
Kaplan said he had been in close contact with Perez, who was now referring calls to his office as the family processes the events that unfold around them.
It’s understood that Yonatan was at home over Shabbat when he was called by his army unit to assist. Two soldiers he was with sustained serious injuries after also being shot.
Perez spoke at this year’s Yom HaZikaron ceremony in Israel to commemorate fallen soldiers. His words were hauntingly profound.
With reference to the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, he said, “Jewish history is remembering things the way they were, and there’s pain. Life isn’t a bed of roses, there are thorns. That’s the human story, and that’s the Jewish story.” However, he also stressed that amid the pain and suffering there was another part of the story, one of triumph.
He concluded by praying that the weight of the people who had lost loved ones would be lifted, and they would be comforted. May his child come home safely and soon.