‘He was doing this for the Jewish people and he has made a very special sacrifice’

Eli-Moshe Zimbalist was one of eight young soldiers killed just over a week ago in the southern Gaza Strip after his vehicle exploded


He was known by friends and admirers as the “hand of gold with a heart of gold”, because he regularly volunteered to build shelves, benches and chairs for his friends and his yeshivah – and because he would befriend fellow-reservist soldiers going through crisis. He also had a special relationship with his toddler nephew, and with his younger brother who has Down’s Syndrome.

Eli-Moshe Zimbalist, 21, was one of eight young soldiers killed just over a week ago in the southern Gaza Strip as they drove to a mission in Rafah. This week, after their seven days of shiva, his family gathered on Mount Herzl at his freshly-dug grave among the heroic fallen soldiers to pray and to reminisce.

The precise cause of the explosion and fireball that engulfed his vehicle is still being investigated by the IDF. Military sources suggest a rocket-propelled grenade struck the armoured vehicle, which was carrying explosives. They were part of a demolition squad for Hamas’ tunnels and buildings. The incident was the largest single loss of life for Israel in one incident since the war began in Gaza, bringing the military death toll to 315.

Eli-Moshe’s family had immigrated to Israel from Silver Springs, close to Washington DC, when he was just two. His elder sister, Nechama Weiss, 27, told the JC as she lit a candle at the graveside: “Hopefully this cemetery will remain as it is, with no more graves. We are inspired by what my brother said to one of his close friends: ‘If I die, cry a bit, but with your head held high.’”

The young soldier and two of the other young men who died that day had taken a pre-army training course in a Hesder yeshivah (which combines military service with study), and six of the eight had bonded. Two others had, tragically, joined the doomed vehicle just hours after their own vehicle had malfunctioned.

Eli-Moshe had forged a strong friendship with the commander of his vehicle, a Druze office called Wassim. “The Druze officer kept trying to persuade Eli-Moshe he had a great future in the permanent army, but he was determined to return to yeshivah after his reserve duty,” his sister recalled.

“Eli-Moshe’s comrades told our family during the shiva that whenever there were soliders feeling alone or isolated, Eli-Moshe would find ways to comfort and support them. Everyone was his friend, but for some he was their only friend. He was just filled with love.”

The Zimbalist family, who live in Bet Shemesh, had just spent a great Shabbat with Eli-Moshe, who was briefly on leave from Gaza before he returned to his unit. On his last-ever Sunday morning he disappeared to buy his nephew, aged 18 months, a new bathing costume and his first kippah.

“Israel must complete the mission, and allow everyone to go back to their homes and live safely,” Nechama said. “We know he was doing this for the Jewish people, and he has made a very, very special sacrifice.”

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