Two former New Yorkers, an elite soldier and a top doc, share their experiences

A local high school yeshiva graduate who became an elite Israeli soldier. A doctor at Yeshiva University in the Bronx who is now a medical ethics expert in Beersheba. Both discussed their experiences during Queens Jewish Center’s Israel Memorial/Israel Independence Day Zoom event on April 14.

Corporal Daniel Gofine of the Givati Brigade was at his army base at Kibbutz Kissufim on the border of the Gaza strip in 2014 on the same day as this Zoom event. Gofine’s commanding officer was midway in his remarks about Memorial Day when a siren went off – someone had trespassed through the security fence.

Gofine thought “how much has changed” while scrambling with fellow soldiers responding to the threat. He remembered getting blue and white doughnuts on this day in yeshivah. Alerts sounding off “was a fairly regular occurrence,” said Gofine.

When Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza broke out a few months later, Major Benaya Sarel, his radio man, Staff Sergeant Liel Gidoni, and 2nd Lieutenant Hadar Goldin went deep into Rafah in the Gaza Strip “to weaken Hamas’ infrastructure, to end the rocket fire and the tunnel digging.”

 “They were ambushed from nearby houses, amidst a ceasefire. All were killed,” said Gofine. Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin’s body was taken “through a terror tunnel” where Hamas continues to hold his body.

Gofine said Givati Recon Company Commander Major Benaya Sarel “led from the front, embodying the phrase so often attributed to Zahal’s officers, ‘Acharai (After me).’”

Major Benaya Sarel “was constantly on the move, laser-focused on a mission to do all that he could to protect the land he loved so much.”

Major Benaya Sarel “had a type of energy or charisma that I’d always associated with so many of the greatest Israeli heroes with whom I’d been brought up.”

“Despite his larger than life character, I was always struck by his positivity, his energy, and his humility. Though he could have handed off jobs to other soldiers, he took pride in carrying his own backpack, scouting out the land, and motivating his soldiers and pushing them ahead,” said Corporal Gofine.

World Mizrahi’s video, “Israel, a Land of Living Prophecy,” was played to transition from the solemn Memorial Day to the happier Independence Day.

Ten prophecies from the Bible coming true were discussed: 1) G-d will gather you, 2) The land will be desolate when the Jews are not there, 3) The land “blossomed only once its children return,” 4) “The people will speak in one clear language” {Hebrew}, 5) “Out of Zion will go forth Torah and the word of G-d,” 6) Economic abundance, 7) “A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey,” 8) The building up of Jerusalem, 9) A source of global wisdom and blessing, and 10) Standing amongst the nations once again.

Dr. Alan Jotkowitz is a professor of medicine and director of the COVID Center for Medical Ethics in Israel. He is also Senior Physician at Soroka Medical Center and an Associate Director of Academic Affairs for International Health at Ben Gurion University.

Before making aliyah in 2001, he was an attending physician and an assistant professor at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is the author of several books about halachah and medical ethics.

In 1913, early Jewish settlers in Israel pooled their resources to start Kupat Cholim, universal health coverage. “It didn’t start from the top doen but from the bottom up.” Now, “Every citizen lives within walking distance of a local health care center,” said Dr. Jotkowitz.

Abortions in Israel need to be approved by a committee of two doctors and a social worker. However, 98% of all requests are approved. Physician-assisted suicide is not allowed, but “patients can refuse end-of-life treatment.”

When new medications or treatments become available, a “Health Basket Committee” at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba “discusses what can we afford?” “That relates to medical ethics,” said Dr. Jotkowitz. The committee is made up of rabbis, imams, doctors, patients, social workers, psychologists, and representatives.

Halachah and secular ethics are part of the conversation. “We listen to each other and try to come to compromises. Not everyone is thrilled with it, but we sort of work these compromises out on a daily basis.”

Jewish and Muslim doctors work together. “We never talk politics in the hospital.” “We work together for one goal for our patients: to make them healthier.”

Respirators and intensive care beds were shifted from hospital to hospital during the pandemic but there weren’t any shortages in Israel.

Israelis got vaccinated for the coronavirus quickly because each citizen has a doctor and is in the centralized health-care system. A patient’s lab reports, EKG, chest x-rays, etc. can be seen by a doctor in any Israeli hospital.

Ben Kohane and Rabbi Judah Kerbel asked questions to Dr. Jotkowitz in a 32-minute pre-recorded interview. Is COVID from G-d? “If you’re a religious person, HaKadosh Baruch Hu (G-d) is telling us something.” “We don’t have n’viim (prophets). We don’t know what G-d is telling us.”

However, Dr. Jotkowitz said, “Maybe we have to rethink our relationship to materialism and consumerism.” Also, “As religious Jews, we can’t divorce ourselves from what happens to the world around us.” “Something can happen in China that affects us in Israel and in America.”

For the Memorial Day portion, Rabbi Yaniv Meirov said T’hilim (Psalms) 121 about G-d being the Guardian of Israel. Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Congregation Machane Chodosh chanted the prayer, Keil Malei Rachamim for the 23,928 Israelis killed by war and terrorism. Rabbi Ashie Schreier of the Young Israel of Forest Hills said the prayer for the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.

For the Independence Day portion, Rabbi David Algaze of Havurat Yisrael said a prayer for the State of Israel.

Rabbi Judah Kerbel of the Queens Jewish Center said that T’hilim (Psalms) 126 “was seriously considered for Israel’s national anthem. In fact, when Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty with Egypt on the White House lawn, he read aloud this complete prayer in Hebrew.” Rabbi Kerbel closed the evening, singing T’hilim 126 to the tune of “Hatikvah.”


By David Schneier