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The ultimate sacrifice: Remembering Arnon Zmora ז”ל

Chief Inspector Arnon Zamora, who was killed in a mission to rescue hostages held in the Gaza Strip, June 8, 2024. (Israel Police)
Chief Inspector Arnon Zamora, who was killed in a mission to rescue hostages held in the Gaza Strip, June 8, 2024. (Israel Police)

I awakened Shabbat morning to the jubilant news of a daring, risk-filled mission to rescue four Israeli hostages held by Hamas, carried out by an elite force of the Israel Defense Forces. Glued to the live English broadcast on i24, Israel’s version of 24/7 cable news outlets here in the US, I anxiously longed for more details related to the rescue by the Yamam counter-terrorism unit. The images of the four hostages reunited with their families were both joyful and heart-wrenching. Joyful because their eight-month nightmare is now over. Heart-wrenching because their journey of healing from the trauma they experienced since October 7 is one that no one can imagine. I can only hope that each of them will have the professional and emotional support to go forward and live their lives with purpose and joy.

As I continued to watch the live news feed from Israel, I decided to call my brother who made Aliyah in 1976. When he answered, I was surprised by the melancholy in his voice. I could hear the sound of his television with the news in Hebrew in the background. I asked him, “You seem upset. Why?”

He shared that one of his son’s former soldiers, Arnon Zmora, the commander of an elite counter-terrorism unit, was killed during the rescue operation in Gaza. Years ago, my brother explained, during Arnon’s mandatory service in the IDF, Arnon served with my nephew who had been the commander of a special forces unit.  When Arnon’s service ended, he decided to become a career officer and was chosen to serve in Yamam, a tactical unit comprised of Israel’s best.

My brother then told me that my nephew, and many of the soldiers who served with Arnon, would attend the funeral on Mt. Herzl, along with thousands of mourners. When I showed my nephew a draft of this blog to ask for his permission to convey the special connection he had with Arnon, he replied:

“I am so proud of having had the opportunity to be a small part of this incredible person’s life. Please do share this, so people around the world can see what Arnon was made of and what our brave soldiers are made of and believe in: the sanctity of life, not the embrace of death.”

My nephew’s poignant words reminded me of the six degrees of separation, showing how small and interconnected our world can be.

And to accentuate that connection, while speaking with my brother, a photo popped up in my WhatsApp thread. It was a photo of Arnon at my nephew’s wedding, carrying him on his shoulders.

Arnon at my nephew’s wedding, carrying him on his shoulders

Looking at the photo, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel. Just as he joyfully carried my nephew on his shoulders, Arnon, like every man and woman serving to defend Israel, carries on their shoulders not only the Israeli people, but every Jew in the Diaspora.

Someday when the full story is known, Arnon’s courage will be remembered no less than those of the heroes of Entebbe or Ammunition Hill.

One of those heroes of the Entebbe rescue operation, after hearing the news of Arnon’s death, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) about his encounter with Arnon a few years ago and again after the October 7 massacre. Amir Ofer recalled their meeting at a performance in the amphitheater at Mevasseret Zion, where Arnon asked him to deliver a lecture to those under his command about Entebbe. They spoke again in depth on October 16, 2023, about Zmora’s experiences in responding to the Hamas attack, including near-death encounters and strategic decisions that saved his unit.

Ofer advised Arnon to document his experiences to process the trauma, which Zmora later said helped him immensely. Ofer praised his heroism and morality, expressing deep admiration for his courage and dedication. He also offered advice on maintaining vigilance in combat, though he believed Zmora already intuitively personified that attribute. Upon the news of Arnon’s death, Ofer underscored that Zaora was a true hero deserving of national honor.

That honor was bestowed when Israel’s government officially renamed the rescue operation known as “Seeds of Summer” to “Operation Arnon.”

Israel Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, capturing the essence of Arnon’s selfless service and ultimate sacrifice, said,

I salute Chief Inspector Arnon Zamora, Commander in the elite Yamam Unit, who fell while leading a daring operation to rescue four hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. He lived and fell a hero.”

While his heroism will be remembered by a grateful nation, his wife Michal put that notion in perspective when she spoke at his funeral, saying,

“The image of the hero, Arnon Zamora, may he rest in peace, is now everywhere. But long before he was a fighter and a hero, he was a sweet and charming man. An amazing partner, a perfect father. A loving and beloved man. That’s how we will remember him, and I’ll be glad if you do, too.”

Arnon’s death will forever be etched into every Israeli citizen’s heart and soul, for he exemplified, through his courage, the determination and will to defend his Jewish homeland, even at the cost of the ultimate sacrifice.

My heart is with Arnon’s family, his wife Michal, their two children, Noam and Itai, his parents Ruti and Reuven – and all who were touched by his light, his strength, and his courage.

May Arnon’s sacrifice be remembered with honor and reverence, not just as a brave soldier, but as a loving husband, father, son, and friend.

May his memory be for a blessing.

About the Author
Reuven Taff has dedicated his career to serving Jewish communities. For 25 years, he was the rabbi and spiritual leader of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, California, and now serves as Rabbi Emeritus. As a Hazzan and Jewish Educator, he has held positions as Cantor and Educational Director at Beth El Congregation in Phoenix, Arizona, and Headmaster of Gesher Jewish Day School of Northern Virginia. In addition to his blog on Times of Israel, his opinion pieces have been published in The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento News and Review, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Dallas Morning News, The Albany Times-Union, The Algemeiner, The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Forward, Jewish Journal and other publications. He can be contacted at rabbitaff@mosaiclaw.org.
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