‘God takes the very best’. This Hebrew saying never felt so true and relevant. From October 7th until today, Israel has lost many incredible individuals. Last week Israel lost one of its best, and I lost one of my closest friends and neighbors, Major Yitzhar Hoffman.
Israel is a small country, and it’s fair to say that each Israeli has lost a loved one, is nursing an injured relative, or agonizes over a family member or neighbor who has been captured. Last week, we paid our final respects to our beloved friend Yitzhar, a man central to my family’s life.
Yitzhar, 36, served in the IDF ‘Shaldag’ commando unit, a special unit connected to Israel’s air force. He leaves behind his wife Zohar and two little boys – Beeri (6) and Harel (4). Yitzhar was his family’s steady anchor. The Hoffman’s moved to Esshar, a small community in the center of the Galilee, the same week that my family did. We came from Rockville, Maryland, they from Jerusalem. The two families hit it off immediately. Natural leaders, Yitzhar and Zohar stood apart as a power couple; people gravitated to them.
Despite his hectic schedule, Yitzhar volunteered in many community committees. In addition, he was active in the local pub and local petting farm. Yitzhar volunteered and mentored local youth, taking active part in the community’s plays and celebrations. Our families enjoyed many Shabbat meals together. Our friendship was further cemented by our bike rides together in the beautiful nature surrounding our community. I loved spending time with Yitzhar and admired his wisdom, values, and fun personality. Being around Yitzhar made me want to be a better person and push my limits.
In the past few years, Yitzhar worked as a civil engineer. He was successful at his job, but his heart was elsewhere, in the IDF, where he served as a company commander in ‘Shaldag.’ Yitzhar invested much time and effort in his unit. He loved his soldiers and believed that it was his responsibility to prepare them for war. Despite being a reserve unit, they trained hard, physically and mentally. Yitzhar drove his soldiers to achieve their maximum potential. In turn, his soldiers, commanders, and colleagues deeply respected him. A most devoted officer, Yitzhar loved and cared for his soldiers. Since his death, stories have been pouring in from his unit. Many shared personal anecdotes about the close relationships that he fostered. How they admired him!
Many IDF commanders stand out for their heroism and courage. What made Yitzhar unique is the extent to which he went to achieve his goals. And the IDF has many great combat units, manned by combat soldiers who complete intense training. Their service is vital, and their lives are put on the line. Of the small percentage of soldiers who serve in combat units, additional courses hand-pick those who will be asked to join elite combat units. It’s extremely hard to get accepted to these elite units, owing to the intense dedication and training involved. Those who complete the track are entrusted with the most sensitive combat activities. Even within elite units, ‘special forces’ take the lead role. Of the IDF’s four special forces, the acceptance rate is tiny. Out of thousands of candidates who start the selection process, only dozens make the grade. Those who complete the training participate in the most important and daring military operations. Among these elite soldiers, the best become officers and commanders. More training follows. In time, this cadre of officers return to their special units, leading them.
This brings us back to Yitzhar. As an officer in Shaldag, he led several military operations behind enemy lines. Together with his soldiers, Yitzhar’s team was legendary, the elites of the elite. Yitzhar continued to lead his team even after completing his full-time army stint. He managed to keep up intense army training while studying engineering. Later, he worked as a full-time engineer, as became a father and built his home. For Yitzhar, mounting work and responsibility did not mean neglecting his army unit. In fact, he grew his team, turning it into a company, achieving unprecedented goals.
On October 7th, the Hoffmans were scheduled to join us for Shabbat Kiddush. That morning, we woke up to the terrible news from the south. Yitzhar rushed down to the south and was one of the first responders to help save the people of Kibbutz Beeri. Without letup, he fought in Gaza.
On Wednesday, January 31, a Hamas sniper killed him. Just a month before, Yitzhar was injured during a heroic operation. At that time, Yitzhar and his company were on their way out of Gaza after another successful mission. When Yitzhar heard that another IDF unit was in need of help, he headed back into Gaza to offer support. Details of the incident are still not public other than that Yitzhar’s company saved many soldiers’ lives. During the rescue operation, Yitzhar was shot in the leg. Despite the injury, he continued to command the operation, agreeing to be evacuated to the hospital only after the mission was accomplished.
After Yitzhar was released from the hospital, he invited us over. I expected to see him in pain while he recuperated from the injury. I was mistaken. That wasn’t Yitzhar. He greeted us with a huge smile and although limping on his leg, hosted us as if nothing happened. “I feel great,” Yitzhar told us. As soon as he could, he rejoined his unit in Gaza where they served unstintingly. Years of training were put into practice in the field, in combat. These operations are subject to military censorship, though one was made publicly known – the raid on the Sheba hospital compound. Yitzhar’s unit led the raid, Yitzhar playing a key role in it.
During the raid, Yitzhar took over the hospital with minimal civilian casualties. Hamas underground facilities were excavated, valuable intelligence gathered. Hundreds of terrorists were neutralized by the special forces. When visiting home for a few hours, he expressed his frustration at the international and Israeli press for not spreading the truth about Hamas’s use of hospitals and other civilian centers as terrorist bases from which to launch attacks on Israel. Yitzhar was very proud of his company. Apart from military successes, Yitzhar was happy to see Israeli society come together after months of separation and tension. For him, national unity was essential.
Yitzhar was a true hero and mensch. He was a humble person who made everyone feel comfortable. Yitzhar never bragged about his army career or any of his other successes. He was a great friend who always made you feel apart. Yitzhar was the center of attention because his positive energy, constantly smiling and looking to have a good time. It’s hard to grasp that someone who was always so alive is now dead.
Israel literally lost one of its best. May his memory be a blessing.