Just weeks after last Passover, 21-year-old IDF soldier Amit ben Yigal took part in a mission to arrest members of a terror cell in the Arab village of Ya’bad. After the arrests were made and on his way out, Amit was struck by a large rock hurled from a building and was tragically killed.
As an only son, Amit had to request special permission from his parents to join a combat unit, which he desired to do out of a great sense of commitment to his country. Amit ben Yigal was the only IDF soldier killed in the line of fire since last Passover and in his introduction to the new “Israel Bible IDF Passover Haggadah” dedicated in memory of Amit, Baruch ben Yigal explained what motivated his son to join Golani.
The answer goes back nearly 80 years.
Amit’s grandfather, Chlafo ben Yigal was born in Benghazi, the ancient Libyan Jewish community that dates itself back to the times of King Solomon. During WWII, the Nazis invaded and rounded up the Lybian Jews and Chlafo was taken to the Giado Concentration Camp, where he barely survived the slave-like conditions. After liberation, Chlafo moved to Israel and raised Baruch. Although Chlafo passed away in 1990, he was always deeply grateful to the State of Israel for serving as a refuge for him and for all of those who survived the Holocaust.
Baruch in turn passed along a strong sense of Judaism and appreciation for Zionism to his only son, Amit. As a teenager, Amit excelled in sports at his high school in Ramat Gan, but it was a heritage tour to Poland that changed the trajectory of Amit’s life. Upon returning to Israel, Amit told his father about his experiences at Auschwitz and Treblinka. “Dad,” Amit said to Baruch, “only the IDF can prevent another Holocaust, and I will do whatever I can to keep the Jewish people safe in our homeland.”
When Amit was drafted to the Israeli Defense Forces, he asked Baruch to sign a permission form allowing him to join a combat unit since only-children are not permitted to serve in dangerous positions. Initially, Baruch refused, “You’re all I have Amit, my parents are both gone, you’re all that I have in this world.” But after Amit continued to push, Baruch gave in.
Amit rose up in the ranks of Golani and took tremendous pride in the grueling training he received. Shortly before his service was to end, Amit was killed protecting the land he loved and the Jewish people, for whom he pledged to “Never Forget.”
Proudly, and with tears in his eyes, Baruch told me all about his son, and then our conversation turned to Passover, the first Festival of Freedom that Baruch would have without Amit.
Baruch turned to me, “At our seders, we ask, ‘why is this night different from all other nights?’ and for me the answer is clear. Amit’s empty chair is the difference. However, ‘all of Israel is responsible for one another’ and Amit fought for that sense of solidarity. I am therefore asking all of Israel to demonstrate that same unity this Passover and leave an empty seat in memory of Amit at your Seder.” After hearing Baruch’s powerful request, it was my eyes that became filled with tears.
For hundreds of years, the Jews were slaves in Egypt and Passover commemorates the great miracles that God performed for our ancestors, “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 26:8). One of the first things the Jews do in the wilderness is take a census to form a military, something they couldn’t do under Pharaoh.
For thousands of years, the Jews wandered in exile until returning to Israel. Once again, one of the first things we did was form a Jewish military, something we couldn’t do when we lived in Benghazi or Berlin.
The Torah teaches that the ancient miracles that occurred in Egypt will be overshadowed by the even greater wonders that would accompany our future return to Israel. Perhaps this is because the modern Israeli Defense Forces is made up of our sons and daughters, ordinary Jewish kids who are asked to do heroic and historic things.
It’s one matter for the Almighty to use His mighty hand to keep our ancestors safe. However, it’s even more powerful when after thousands of years, their descendants use their own outstretched arms to protect us, so that we can celebrate our freedom in our homeland.
Passover revolves around the importance of transmitting our nation’s history from one generation to the next. At our Seder, let’s tell the heroic story of the grandson of Chlafo ben Yigal from Libya to the Land of Israel and honor his memory by leaving an empty seat for Amit.