Yom Hazikaron hits close to home for OU family member

The fallen nephew of an Orthodox Union administrator is honored at a worldwide commemoration of Yom Hazikaron, Israel's Memorial Day.

Master Sgt. Zechariah Pesach Haber of the IDF's 14th Armored Brigade’s 87th Battalion. Credit: Courtesy of the Orthodox Union.
Master Sgt. Zechariah Pesach Haber of the IDF's 14th Armored Brigade’s 87th Battalion. Credit: Courtesy of the Orthodox Union.

At only 32 years old, Master Sgt. Zechariah Pesach Haber of the Israel Defense Forces’s 14th Armored Brigade, 87th Battalion, was a rising star. The Jerusalem resident tragically fell in battle on Jan. 16 in the northern Gaza Strip while on reserve duty. His death was particularly painful for the Orthodox Union family, as he was the beloved nephew of OU chief strategy officer Rabbi Ilan Haber.

Born in Teaneck, N.J., Haber was 8 when he made aliyah in 1999 with his parents, Aharon and Miriam, and four younger brothers. Known for his modesty, kindness and infectious smile, Haber’s greatest sources of pride were his wife, Talia Zehava, and their three children.

“Zechariah was righteous, loved Torah and loved people,” recalls Rav Amnon Bazak of Yeshivat Har Etzion, where Haber studied. “He had a heart of gold, was always happy and smiling, talented and serious in all his actions.”

Haber deeply appreciated nature and was known as his family’s resident botanist. Intending to channel his passions into a career, he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree with honors in plant science from Hebrew University. He dreamed of modernizing agriculture through innovative technology, and at the time of his death, was about to complete a Ph.D. in plant sciences and food security at Tel Aviv University.

“Zechariah was an incredibly kind-hearted, thoughtful person, who had a tremendous curiosity about the world,” reflects Rabbi Haber. “He was genuinely interested in meeting people from different walks of life and could learn from anybody. He was very disciplined about the things he felt were most important in life. At the same time, he also had a sense of humor and could joke around. He liked hiking and the outdoors, and was totally devoted to his wife and children, with whom he loved to play. He was brilliant in both Torah and science and very accomplished, even in his short life.”

In memory of Zechariah Haber and all of the soldiers who gave their lives Al Kiddush Hashem, the OU held a worldwide siyum on Monday, at a live-streamed Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) commemoration.

“This year, when so many are grieving their raw and fresh losses, it is a special opportunity for pure and unadulterated empathy, nesius b’ol im chaveiro, as we try our hardest to understand and to relate to the experience of those who have sacrificed their lives for us, for Klal Yisrael, whom no one in the world can approach in their greatness,” says OU executive vice president Rabbi Moshe Hauer.

The Yom Hazikaron commemoration and siyum on May 13 included remarks by Hauer; OU president Mitchel Aeder; RIETS (Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary) Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger, who serves as the rabbi of Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, N.J.; Binghamton University’s OU JLIC (Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) director Rabbi Ben Menora; and the Haber family.

The Siyum was on Mishnayot and most of Tanach. The Hadran was said by OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack, and the Kaddish was led by OU Kosher COO Rabbi Moshe Elefant.

The event was emceed by Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, OU managing director of community engagement, who serves as the rabbi of the Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton in New Jersey. Chazzan Yitzy Spinner of the Great Neck Synagogue in New York sang the Mishebererach L’Chayalim and Kel Malei tefillot (a prayer for the soldiers and a memorial prayer).

Ahead of Yom Hazikaron, the OU launched B’Yachad LaNetzach, an initiative that encouraged North American shuls, batei midrash and schools to join the families of the fallen in recalling and appreciating their profound sacrifice, by memorializing a single soldier who has passed away since Oct. 7.

“Thanks to this incredible initiative, those who sacrificed their lives are not getting lost in the numbers,” says Haber. “Rather, they are being recognized individually for how they lived and engaged with others, and what they accomplished. Linking shuls with specific chayalim so that they can connect with them is a very poignant and appropriate way of recognizing Yom Hazikaron and valuing everyone’s contributions toward the State of Israel’s establishment and continued existence.”

B’Yachad LaNetzach aims to bridge the significant gap between Israelis who serve in Tzahal, the Israel Defense Forces, and the vast majority of American Jewry, who cannot fathom the emotional burdens Israelis bear around the war. It also endeavors to offer bereaved families chizuk (“strength”) and elevate the neshamot (“souls”) of the departed. Participating organizations received a metallic print and bio of their adopted soldier, as well as a connection with their family, where possible.

“Our kedoshim deserve to be remembered individually by having their stories told and by having Torah learned and tefillos said in their memory,” says Hauer. “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.”

Haber was moved by the OU’s gesture to memorialize his nephew Zechariah. “That the OU chose my nephew to specifically recognize has a deep personal meaning to me, given my long-standing connection with the OU, working first with JLIC and now with OU management. The OU is not just an organization, but a family.”

CONTACT: Ilana Weinberger, assistant director of Public Relations,
347-514-0184, weinbergeri@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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