Young massacre survivor’s tefillin recovered intact from fire

A commando unit went with the religious group into Nachal Oz under fire to retrieve Ariel Zohar’s heirloom from his Holocaust survivor grandfather, in time for his bar mitzvah.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Ariel Zohar, who is turning 13 next month, is the sole survivor of his family after Hamas terrorists murdered his parents and sisters among 1,400 other victims in their mass invasion of Gaza envelope communities October 7, including his home, Kibbutz Nachal Oz.

Thirteen is when Jewish boys celebrate their bar mitzvah, when they come of age and are bound by the Torah’s commandments. This includes the donning of tefillin, phylacteries, on the arm and head, every morning for prayers.

When Ariel sat shiva (the seven-day Jewish mourning period) at the home of his grandparents, both Holocaust survivors, he made a special request of the Zaka emergency response organization that is most famous in Israel for its volunteers who collect body parts from terrorist attacks so they can be buried according to Jewish law.

Even though the fighting was not over yet in the area as the IDF hunted down Hamas terrorists who had not fled back to the Gaza Strip after their killing spree, he asked them to go back to Nachal Oz to find his grandfather’s tefillin.  His father Yaniv had had them, and had given them to the boy in anticipation of his bar mitzvah.

“Righteous men from Zaka entered under fire,” said his aunt. “They were given six minutes to get all the things Ariel had asked them to get, the most important of all being my brother Yaniv’s prayer shawl and phylacteries.”

Zaka spokesman Motti Buktzin told Israel Hayom that the team didn’t hesitate to say yes, but they also did not go in alone.

“We went into Nahal Oz escorted by special forces and under heavy fire,” he said. “As we moved toward the house, an antitank missile was fired at us. The army returned fire to the source, but ultimately the unbelievable happened – we managed to extricate the tefillin intact, under fire.”

In a Channel 13 report on the unique mission, soldiers can be seen finding the precious objects. One of them calls out, “The people of Israel live!” as he leaves the house, which is among a row of homes seemingly untouched by the invaders, unlike many other places that were set aflame and/or looted.

“You gave us the strength to win,” Haim Outmezgine, commander of the special ZAKA unit, told Zohar when he delivered the precious objects to the family, all of whom broke down crying when he entered. “Know that your one small request can win a very big war, because we’ll tell this story to the entire world. A boy asks for something his father gave him. That’s us, that’s our nation.”

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Zohar had not been at home when the terrorists arrived, having gone for a morning jog. He ran to the safety of a nearby home, where he sat out the next horrific hours with the family of the kibbutz’s head of security, who went out to fight the terrorists and was killed himself. Only after his rescue did he find out that he was now an orphan.