Eight Weeks Ago …
… David, Moshe, Gidon, Gabe, Ike, Gani, and Baruch were the best of friends, each with his own job, career, and path in life.
Two Months Later …
… all but David are managing one of the largest new start-up operations in Israel—hand-in-hand with the IDF, Ministry of Defense, ZAKA, El Al, and others—bringing hundreds of tons of urgently needed tactical gear and supplies to soldiers on the front lines of war. This is the story of how a handful of friends was transformed, literally overnight, by the Black Sabbath slaughter of October 7th, 2023.
The Death of David Newman
Erev Shabbat, October 6th, one month ago.
Our son Baruch decided not to go to the Nova Music Festival because his sister, brother-in-law, and their children, were visiting from the States, and our whole family had the rare opportunity to celebrate Shabbat and Simchat Torah together.
Though he didn’t go south to Nova, Baruch did lend his car to a dear friend, David Newman, so that he and his girlfriend Noam could go. On Shabbat morning, Baruch received a text from David: “Pray for me, and your car.” David’s sense of humor was still intact. The next text read: “Praying for a miracle. Something terrible has happened.” That was the final text.
David and Baruch attended high school together at the Yerushalayim Torah Academy. They are part of a beautifully tight knit group of friends, who, though their life paths are widely divergent, have remained, truly, a band of brothers. Early that Shabbat-Simchat Torah morning, we awoke to the first missile sirens in Jerusalem. Soon, ungraspable news was creeping in. A slaughter was unfolding. By noon, Baruch was giving blood at an emergency MDA center, and two other close friends, Gidon and Ezra, were planning their drive south, into a war zone, in search of David and Noam. Before departing Jerusalem, another friend’s father gave them two protective vests and a pistol. Our family, along with David’s family and friends, clung to the hope that somehow, David, a Golani soldier, had found a way to save Noam and himself. Highway One was all but empty, save for an occasional police car, a car carrying soldiers rushing south, or a tank. The Iron Dome was intercepting Hamas missiles overhead. While driving, they received a call from David’s brother Noach: “Noam is dead. No word on David, but I don’t think he’s with us.”
What Should We Do?
With those words from Noach, and with the ever-clearer realization that they were headed straight into a wildly chaotic war zone where hundreds of heavily armed Hamas terrorists were hunting civilians, the three had a fateful decision to make: To press on, in an old Prius with two vests and a pistol, or not. Baruch articulated what they all knew to be true. “Guys, Noam is dead. Most likely David is too. If we keep going, we’ll probably be three more.” And yet, they were torn. Their hearts screamed. David, David! How can we not try?
At about that time, Baruch received a call from his sister Ditzah. She and her family from Kiryat Tiyvon were part of the gang staying with us for chag. That Simchat Torah we danced in our home, not in synagogue, and we honored each young grandchild with leading one of the seven traditional dance circles. On the phone, Ditzah insisted that continuing was far too dangerous, and said to Baruch: “Don’t worry, your time will come. You will have a different mission.” How right she was. She may have saved her brother’s life so that he could, indeed, undertake what has now become his life’s mission.
Stopping at a makeshift, emergency Hatzalah operations center on route 232, Gidon and Ezra, who each had army medic training, offered to join an ambulance. They were handed helmets before getting in. Gidon and Ezra were beyond unprepared for the carnage they were about to encounter. In a short period of time, in addition to realizing the magnitude of what had happened, they also came face-to-face with the frightening shortage of gear that plagued many of the soldiers who were rushing into battle.
On Sunday morning, Gidon posted the following message: “I just heard from my brother. He’s going in and he needs a drone. We gotta’ get him one.” The guys took to social media and in no time were on their way to pick up two commercial DJI drones, one from “a 10-year-old kid in Katamon,” and the other from “some 20-year-old guy in the Old City.” Gidon, Baruch, and now Moshe, again headed south to deliver the drones. When delivering the drones, Gidon saw that his brother didn’t have a vest, so he removed his and put it on his brother. The three again continued south; maybe, just maybe, they would find David. Soon they reached the new border of Israel, the old one was now in the hands of Hamas. War raged. The army forced them to turn back.
Back in Jerusalem, the Newman family still had no definitive confirmation whether David was dead or alive. Baruch and Moshe decided to go to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon where truckloads of bodies were being brought from the killing fields of the Nova Music Festival. They were pointed to a freezer truck filled with unidentified bodies, but no David.
Later, the Newman family received a photo, though they couldn’t be sure if it included David or not. Baruch noticed the shoes on the body. He knew that David had a favorite pair of the same shoes. Baruch called Gabe, one of their roommates, and told him to check if that pair of shoes was with David’s stuff. It wasn’t. And then Baruch noticed the shirt. It was one of his own, that he had lent to David. At that moment they knew, what Noach had already sensed the night before: David is no longer with us.
Let’s Do Something
That night, Ezra was called to duty, and that YTA band of brothers; Ike, Baruch, Gidon, David, Moshe, and Gabe, opened a WhatsApp group with a collective message: “Let’s do something.” Thus was born, SSL: Soldiers Save Lives, Gear Saves Soldiers.
What can I say? These guys, all of them 25 years old, with utter determination, and driven to “do something” for David, put out the word through family and friends in New York that IDF soldiers needed gear for what was becoming the largest, fastest call up of reserve soldiers in the history of Israel. On that black Shabbat of October 7th, Hamas had taken Israel totally by surprise, and the gruesome results instantly traumatized the entire country. And then, within a day, Israel was undertaking a mobilization on a scale, and at a pace that, truth be told, it had not anticipated.
In the blink of an eye, with Ike’s mother’s Long Island home serving as a collection center, hundreds and hundreds of Jews began bringing duffle bags filled with a vast array of gear, medical supplies, and much, much more. Some arrived with small trucks stuffed with supplies. In under 48 hours, somehow, not only had SSL collected, packed, and palleted enough to fill a plane, they also secured the assistance of EL Al, and raised the funds needed to finance what would be the first of many flights to Israel. In under 48 hours, five young Jews with no previous relevant experience, constructed what would become an air bridge from America to thousands of other young Jews now facing a Hamas Jihad bloodbath in the south, and Jihadi Hezbollah forces in the north.
Those Brothers, and That Embrace
On Tuesday evening, I was present at Gidon’s apartment that had been transformed into a round-the-clock chamal, or “war time operations center.” Their El Al flight, carrying 12,000 tons of supplies, was approaching Ben Gurion airport. The plane touched down at 7:00 p.m. At 7:15, those brothers, most of whom had also shared an apartment with David just a week earlier, simultaneously turned off their cell phones and gathered in an embrace that I will never forget. For the first time, they allowed themselves to feel the wrenching pain of their collective loss. They hugged, they wept, they cursed, and they flooded the world with a unique love that is the sweet, so very bittersweet, fruit of true friendship. And then, as one—literally as One—they departed for David’s funeral.
My wife and I stood together at the funeral in what seemed to be a bottomless gorge of tears; tears that wept and filled other bottomless pools of still more weeping tears. Our daughter Esther Rivka from Silver Spring, who had spent the last 48 hours cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry for “the team,” was there as well. So too her 15-year-old son, Shlomo, who, besides cleaning Gidon’s kitchen, and buying all the Gatorade he could find in Katamon to fuel the team’s 23-hour-a-day work, had been enlisted to create a data base of all the soldiers and IDF units that were sending in requests for gear and supplies. And then there was Baruch, and the team, and David’s siblings, father, and Noam, his wounded girlfriend who was brought to the funeral on a stretcher, by ambulance, from the hospital.
I’ve been in the intensive care unit after a terror attack.
I was with my brother when he took his last breath.
I have been to too many funerals and shiva homes of victims of terror.
Nothing I have ever seen or experienced even remotely prepared me for that burial.
I won’t even try to describe it. If cries, no screams; screams that didn’t befit the throats they issued from, ever pierced the heavens, it was those choking, screaming cries. I looked at my son’s contorted, near hyperventilating face, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
And when it was over:
Gidon, Ike, Baruch, Moshe, Gabe, and David gathered in the parking lot of the Har Hamenuchot cemetery, overlooking the silent night sky of Jerusalem, turned their phones on, and went back to work. There was a planeload of cargo waiting to be picked up and distributed to waiting soldiers. Off they went, and there I stood. Stunned and humbled by what “these guys,” these guys who I have known since they were in high school, had just done; by the awesome level of responsibility they had suddenly, and fully, shouldered.
In Under a Month
In less than one month, Soldiers Save Lives became a critical and trusted partner in this, Israel’s Second War of Independence, this war for our very right to exist as a Jewish state, on the soil of our ancient Jewish homeland. Today these guys work, daily, and round the clock, with the highest levels of the IDF, elite unit commanders, the Ministry of Defense, and others. Some of what they do will not be told for years to come.
The beasts from Gaza that raided Israel’s border towns on October 7th—Shabbat-Simchat Torah— raped, tortured and decapitated women and children, slaughtered defenseless grandparents, burned families alive, took hundreds of children and elderly men and women hostage, and filmed it all on GoPro cameras so they could parade their victory footage in front of the cheering masses they represented.
That was the day their proud families and friends celebrated.
That was their victory.
It was also the putrid seed of their destruction.
What they unleashed on Israel, and indeed the world that day, was more than their barbaric, evil, snuff-film pit of darkness; they unleashed the absolute, wall-to-wall, shoulder-to-shoulder, heart-to-heart, Unity of the Jewish Nation. A unity that fuels, inspires, lifts, drives, and sanctifies the SSL team, and the rest of our precious country, every moment of every day.
Soldiers Save Lives
Look for yourself.
At what I can tell you is but the tip of an iceberg of endless passion.
Please. Take a look.
And no, this isn’t a request for your financial support.
It’s a request for you to look beneath the surface, and between the lines of this website. Because it’s there that you will find the eternal, resonant flame of the Jewish soul. And not just there, but in every home in Israel today. And, I pray, that you too, in every way you can, and beyond, will also find newly present, resonant layers of your soul as well.
For yes, yachad n’natzeach, only yachad.
In Unity we will be victorious. Only in Unity.
Today, and for all eternity.
In honor of Noam, who longed to marry David.
Noam, who struggles to lift herself from a wheelchair, and who together with friends and family, gathers to sing and offer endless thanks for having had David Newman in their lives.
And in memory of David Newman. Dovid Yair Shalom Neman ben Chaya and Moshe Meir. Last seen by Noam, his wife to be, as a Hamas beast shot him at point blank range.
And in honor of the 300,000 civilians that left their spouses, businesses, classrooms, children, and careers behind, and who now fight, and die, to protect the State of Israel.