Grandpa Yehuda HY”D and his Grandson Yehuda HY”D

Grandpa Yehuda HY”D and his Grandson Yehuda HY”D

This past Shabbat the Heroism Tent hosted the sister of 25-year-old Sayeret Givati Platoon Commander Yehuda Natan Cohen HY”D who was tragically killed by terrorists in Gaza on November 5th. Here is the story of this incredible young man that’s been reverberating in my mind and heart since I heard it:

Yehuda was a modest person who did whatever he did with all his heart. When he was in high school, for example, he stopped wearing tsitsit. After high school, Yehuda spent a year at the pre-military mechina in Eli, and after a 5 minute conversation with one of the rabbis he decided to go back to putting on tsitsit everyday without fail for the rest of his life. At Yehuda’s shiva, we asked that rabbi what he’d told Yehuda that had changed his attitude so drastically. The rabbi explained that he’d told him that Jews, like soldiers, have a uniform they wear, and tsitsit have been a proud and integral part of that uniform for thousands of years as they will continue to be, forever.

At the beginning of the war Yehuda realized that his soldiers wanted to follow his example and wear tsitsit as a protection, so he obtained 400 tsitsiot for them. Soldiers with kippot wore tsitsit, of course, as well as soldiers without kippot. Even the Druse and Bedouin soldiers in his platoon started wearing them. That was Yehuda, whatever he did, he did with all his heart.

Yehuda was a champion chess player. At 7:30 AM on October 7th he raced from his childhood home in Shdamot Mehola near Beit Shean straight to Kibbutz Nachal Oz which was swarming with Hamas terrorists. At his funeral, a member of the kibbutz recalled how Yehuda used his expert chess skill and strategizing to successfully save the kibbutz families from an even greater massacre.

And another chess story. When Yehuda was in high school at the Yeshiva in Khispin he won the yeshiva’s annual chess tournament in 9th grade, 10th grade, and 11th grade. In 12th grade Yehuda didn’t participate in the tournament, and when his friends asked him why, he explained with his characteristic selflessness, “I’ve won enough times. I want to give somebody else a chance to win this year.”

Yehuda was a special soul. When he had time off from the army, he would spend a day a week at Mechina in Eli to reconnect with Torah learning and with his rabbis. Another day a week he would work in his neighbor’s cow shed, he said this was his time to hear himself think, to get quiet enough to hear the still small voice within. It was a top priority for Yehuda to get married, to establish a home of his own, and whenever he had time off he would travel hours from our parents’ remote community to go on dates. At his funeral his friends sang the Arba Babot niggun for him, a melody sung at Lubavitch weddings, for the wedding Yehuda yearned for but would never have.

The walls of Yehuda’s room were lined with hundreds of books on Jewish and military history. He was connected deeply with the history of the Jewish people and on the deepest, most visceral level he knew that Am Yisrael had been through 3 millenia of persecution and exiles and crusades and inquisitions and pogroms and a Holocaust, and as a fighter in the IDF he knew he had the unique privilege of being an active player in the final destiny of the Jewish people, returned after 2000 years to their homeland.

Yehuda was named after his two grandfathers, his grandfather Natan Yehuda who survived the Shoah and his other grandfather Yehuda HY”D who was murdered by the Nazis.

The day he was killed, Yehuda detected terrorists in a building mistakenly thought to be empty. Yehuda stormed the building, killing the terrorists and saving his entire platoon, but at the expense of his own life.

Yehuda died with Shema on his lips, as did his grandfather Yehuda. But my brother Yehuda died a different kind of death. He died as a fighter in the IDF, protecting Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. Returning pride to the Jewish nation. I’m sure that when Saba Yehuda HY”D greeted his namesake Yehuda HY”D, he greeted him with a hero’s welcome, beaming with pride.

May his memory be a blessing.

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