Last week a young man was killed in battle. His name was Amichai Oster, and he was twenty-four years old. He died defending his beautiful country, Israel, and he died trying to eradicate evil from this world, evil that took 1400 lives and kidnapped 240 men, women, and children on that horrific day of October 7th.
I did not know Amichai well. He visited Cleveland in the summer and he joined our synagogue, JFX, and later came over to our home for dinner on Shabbat afternoon. He struck me as a warm, kind, sweet, good hearted young man, with a ready smile and an obvious love of his land. Just a nice, regular kid, the boy next door, the nephew and cousin of our friends the Spiegel family, and the son of the Osters whom I remember from growing up in Cleveland.
This week I saw the picture on my phone. An all-too-familiar picture of a soldier lost in battle. Pictures we’ve been seeing daily now. A flash in my brain: why does that face look familiar? And then, another flash, of awareness. I know that kid. That’s the Amichai who was at our house. And then the tears came.
I cannot allow myself to cry every time I hear of another precious soul downed in battle. How can I? I would be crying all day. But this hit me in a new way, in a personal way. Amichai is like the prototype IDF soldier: a young man, with hopes and dreams, trying to live his life, detouring to serve his country and defend Jewish lives. He was the same age as my son.
How can I not cry? How can we not mourn the loss of Amichai and of all the beautiful souls lost to our nation? War is an awful thing, but it is necessary sometimes in the face of evil. Amichai is our brother and our hearts and souls are with his family and friends during this terrible time.
Many of you know that my father died at the age of thirty from cancer. The older I get the more I understand how very, very young thirty is. What helps me is this: my father did not die in vain. He touched so many lives in his thirty short years. He left me and my brothers and our mother with beautiful memories to last us forever. He impacted so many.
Amichai, you did not die in vain. You died as a hero, as a tzaddik, a righteous person, saving Jewish lives, even at risk of your own. There’s a mystical tradition that when a Jew is killed simply because he is a Jew, his soul rises to the most elevated place in heaven, and he merits to be an advocate for his family and for the entire Jewish people. Amichai, you impacted my life in your short years, and I know you impacted many more, just by being you. May your soul be elevated to the highest place in the Next World, and may God see fit to restore peace to our land.