OU’s B’Yachad LaNetzach memorializes IDF’s fallen heroes

Before Yom Hazikaron, communities asked to adopt a fallen IDF soldier to show gratitude and support for their ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish people.

Israel Defense Forces Staff Sgt. Maoz Morell. Credit: Courtesy.
Israel Defense Forces Staff Sgt. Maoz Morell. Credit: Courtesy.

Israel Defense Forces Staff Sgt. Maoz Morell, 22, of Talmon, Israel, succumbed to wounds on Feb. 15 sustained during combat a week earlier in the Gaza Strip. Maoz was a student at Yeshivat Hesder Kfar Tapuah and was highly devoted to learning Torah, requesting that seforim be brought to the frontlines so that he could pursue his passion while on duty.

Known for his physical strength, he was an excellent athlete. A member of the Paratroopers Brigade, he immediately returned from a trip to the United States to defend his country following the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks.

The eldest of three siblings, IDF Staff Sgt. (res.) Adi Odeya Borech was on her way to reserve duty in the Judea Brigade on Oct. 12 when she was mortally wounded by a falling rocket near Sderot. The 23-year-old from Kiryat Netafim was a leader in the Bnei Akiva youth movement, and always eagerly helped others with generosity and energy.

Captain Lior Sivan, 32, was serving as a tank commander in the Armored Brigade when he fell in combat in the Gaza Strip on Dec. 19. Born in Melbourne, Australia, the Beit Shemesh resident is survived by his pregnant wife, Liav, and 2-year-old son, Tal.

IDF Captain Lior Sivan. Credit: Courtesy.

A lover of humanity and nature with a wonderful sense of humor, he used his skills as a mechanical engineer to improve the lives of others with numerous inventions, including a special toy car for children with disabilities, a wheelchair that floats in water and a suicide-prevention system.

Maoz, Adi and Lior are among the roughly 300 soldiers who have lost their lives in battle since the onset of the war in Israel. This year, Yom Hazikaron—Israels Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism—will be commemorated on Monday, May 13. A new initiative launched by the Orthodox Union is ensuring that these heroes will not only be memorialized by their immediate friends and families but by North American Jewry as well.

“Since Simchas Torah, hundreds of Israel’s precious soldiers have given their lives, and thousands have been wounded in defense of our land and its inhabitants, changing the lives of their families forever,” says OU executive vice president Rabbi Moshe Hauer. “Thousands of Israelis have been living for months with the unimaginable tension of having a child, spouse, parent or sibling on the front lines as they await the dreaded knock on the door.”

Israel Defense Forces Staff Sgt. (res.) Adi Odeya Borech. Credit: Courtesy.

Hauer cites a significant gap in lived experience between Israelis who serve in the IDF and the vast majority of American Jewry.

“This year, when so many are grieving their raw and fresh losses, we must seize the opportunity for pure and unadulterated empathy, nesius b’ol im chaveiro, as we try our hardest to understand the experience of those who have sacrificed their lives for us,” says Hauer.

“Each and every one of the kedoshim deserves to be remembered individually by having their story told and by having Torah learned and tefillos said in their memory,” he adds. “Each and every one of their families deserves to know that their sacrifice is recognized as having been on behalf of all of Klal Yisrael.”

In anticipation of Yom Hazikaron, the OU is encouraging shuls, batei midrash and schools to join the families of the fallen in recalling and appreciating their profound sacrifice through a unique initiative called B’Yachad LaNetzach. The project aims to bridge that gap, offer bereaved families chizuk (strength) and elevate the neshamos (souls) of the departed. Participating organizations will receive a metallic print and biography of their adopted soldier, as well as a connection with their family, if possible.

Israel Defense Forces Staff Sgt. Hallel Saadon. Credit: Courtesy.

“Our hope is that the kehillos will do something meaningful around their chayal on Yom Hazikaron and beyond that as well,” says Rabbi Yisroel Motzen, OU special assistant to the executive vice presidents. “Some shuls have already chosen to dedicate shiurim and tefillos in their memories.”

It was American-Israeli educator Racheli Fraenkel who inspired the OU to initiate the campaign. Shortly after Oct. 7, the mother of Naftali Fraenkel was among featured speakers who brought chizuk to hundreds of listeners on the OU’s weekly chizuk calls. Fraenkel recounted how meaningful it was when she would meet North Americans who had davened on Naftali’s behalf when he was kidnapped in 2014.

“When Racheli visited different communities in Chutz La’Aretz, people would say, ‘You don’t know me, but I know you,’ ” says Motzen. “She would reply, ‘I know exactly who you are. You were with me during the hardest time of my life.’ ”

Fraenkel relayed that every single Jew knew about her son and cautioned that people could get lost in the numbers, rather than focusing on the victims’ names and life stories.

“Racheli believes each of these victims deserves a Yad Vashem,” says Motzen. “Each should have someone who really knows who they are.”

Bereaved families who have learned of the project have been overwhelmingly touched by the gesture.

New Jersey’s Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton synagogue has already adopted Staff Sgt. Hallel Saadon. The 21-year-old soldier from the Nahal Brigade was murdered by Hamas on Oct. 7 near Kibbutz Sufa. A former camper and counselor at Camp Moshava IO in Pennsylvania who loved horses, Hallel lived in Ma’ale Michmas. His mother, Devora, was moved to learn about the OU’s and Young Israel’s memorial tribute to her son.

“It’s very uplifting to know that Hallel’s name and amazing soul is spreading in the world,” she says. “Hallel’s friends said he had the largest heart of anyone they know. Every time he returned to his base, he made sure to stop at the supermarket to buy snacks for the whole team. He knew what each friend liked best, and got it for him. Even in his final moments, Hallel chose to protect his friends, and not himself, by firing back from the entrance of the safe space, instead of going inside.

On a recent Shabbat, synagogue members reflected on Hallel’s life during many lectures and programs that were dedicated to elevating his neshama, preserving his legacy and bringing his family into the heart of the community.

“It is our kehilla’s greatest privilege to honor the memory of Hallel Saadon, an incredible warrior of the Jewish people who fought and gave his life, Al Kiddush Hashem, for the land of Israel and for the people of Israel,” says Young Israel’s Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, who also serves as the OU’s managing director of community engagement. “B’ezras Hashem, we will have the opportunity to have many other moments, both on our own, and shared with the family, to be able to ensure that Hallel’s contribution is forever immortalized in the hearts and the souls and the communities of the Jewish people.”

B’Yachad LaNetzach is also being rolled out in Canada shuls.

When Rabbi Zolly Claman of Montreal’s Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem learned about the OU initiative, he immediately wanted his kehilla to be part of it.

“We are all so eager and thirsty to find ways to connect,” says the rabbi. “During our shul’s recent mission to Israel, the most impactful parts were not the things we saw, but rather the people we met. The heroic sacrifices that every element of the country is making are both heartbreaking and inspiring.

“Having the opportunity to build a personal relationship with Hila Klein, the widow of 29-year-old Elchanan Klein, who was shot by terrorists while driving home to the Shomron from reserve duty, is something that we will cherish forever,” Claman continues. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the OU for making this idea come to fruition, and including our shul in it.”

To register your shul, beit midrash or school in B’Yachad LaNetzach, visit: https://www.ou.org/lanetzach/. If you or a member of your organization has a personal connection to a specific chayal, email: motzeny@ou.org.

Contact: Rabbi Yisrael Motzen, special assistant to the executive vice presidents, 917-855-8607, motzeny@ou.org.

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Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union (OU), or Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs.
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