‘The world around us has changed’

‘The world around us has changed’

Aviv Efrat tells Valley Chabad teens about his father’s killing in Egypt in October

From left, Aviv Efrat’s mother, Ayala, his daughter, Chantal, his father, Haggai, and Mr. Efrat.
From left, Aviv Efrat’s mother, Ayala, his daughter, Chantal, his father, Haggai, and Mr. Efrat.

Last week, Israeli-born Aviv Efrat spoke to Valley Chabad’s CTeen U program’s Israel & Me class.

The class helps local high-school students make sense of what’s going on in Israel now, what led up to it, and how the situation is fueling rising antisemitism in this country now.

Mr. Efrat, his wife, Anat, their daughter, Chantal, and their son, Elliot, have lived in Montvale for more than 10 years, and they have been active in the Valley Chabad community for the past six years. “Tali” — that’s his daughter Chantal — “volunteered as an assistant teacher at Valley Chabad in the 2021-22 school year, working with Rabbi Dov Drizin’s wife, Hindi,” he said. So while Mr. Efrat’s talk was intense and shocking, the teens were prepared to understand it.

“The world around us has changed,” Aviv Efrat said. “Your best ammunition is knowledge.”

Mr. Efrat, who was born in Israel and raised along with three siblings by his parents, Haggai and Ayala, came to the United States in 1987, after his service in the IDF. He did his undergraduate work in business and finance at Brigham Young University in Utah and completed his graduate work at NYU. “Tali made the decision two years ago, instead of applying to college, to make aliyah and serve voluntarily with the IDF as a lone soldier,” he said. “Completing her two years of training in just a few months, she is now in her second year, serving as a gunnery instructor in a tank unit in southern Israel.

“I am impressed with my daughter’s ability to stand in front of a group of new recruits and impart technical information in Hebrew,” he said. “Though my daughter was born in the United States, she believes in defending her Jewish homeland. She is willing to put herself at risk to support the state of Israel, as is her boyfriend, also from the United States, who is also an IDF volunteer lone soldier.”

“A week before what many Israelis call Shabbat Hashchora or Black Sabbath” — October 7 — “my 83-year-old father, Haggai, joined a group of 30 Israelis on a sightseeing bus tour to Egypt,” Mr. Efrat said. “After the siege at the rave,” the music festival where terrorists killed hundreds of concert-goers, “the tourists learned through multiple news sources and from social media of the surprise attack by Hamas militants, each reacting with shock and confusion over the number of Israeli deaths.

Lone soldier Chantal is with a friend at the Western Wall.

“Then, on Sunday, October 8, amid more savagery by Hamas, I got some horrifying news,” he continued. “While at the Pompey’s Pillar sight in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, an Egyptian police officer, a guard at the site, opened fire indiscriminately at the Israeli group, killing on the spot two Israeli tourists and seriously injuring my beloved father.”

“No other tourist group was targeted,” he continued. “The shooting was a purely antisemitic act fueled by the Hamas attack on Israel,” he said. Haggai Efrat had two bullets in his back; he was transported to a hospital in Alexandria, where he underwent a six-hour life-saving operation. “Once he was stabilized, my father was flown to Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv,” Mr. Efrat said. “I spoke with him. He sounded better, but weak, as he was recuperating from a major surgery.” Mr. Efrat flew to Israel on October 14 to see his father, but there were complications that left him in a coma from which he never awakened. “It was too late,” Mr. Efrat said. “He died four or five days after arriving in Israel from Egypt.”

Fortunately,” he continued, “Tali was offered temporary permission to leave the base and visit her grandfather in his final hours to say goodbye. She returned to base after the shiva period.”

Mr. Efrat was struck by his experience at his father’s funeral. “On October 20, we arrived at the civilian cemetery to bury my father,” Mr. Efrat said.

“The experience was surreal. There were no tombstones — just tens of fresh graves, most likely dug for young people from the rave.

“Even the gravediggers were overwhelmed by the number of young people who were buried within that week — 23-year-olds to 83-year-olds buried there,” he said. After shloshim, the 30-day period of mourning, tombstones were put up. “My siblings visited the cemetery and sent pictures, revealing the ages of the dead.”

While Mr. Efrat mourns the horror of his father’s death, when he looked at all the graves, when he considered all the deaths, it all felt incomprehensible. “It was truly a national tragedy,” he said.

Chantal and other IDF soldiers work together.

“My father was born in 1940 to Russian immigrants,” he continued. “Sadly, he became an orphan at the age of 8 when his own father, my grandfather, Shimshon, defended Israel in the War of Independence in 1948.” His mother, Lea, raised him and his brother and sister in a kibbutz near Haifa.

“The painful irony is that 75 years later, my own father is killed by haters of Jews — a blatant act of antisemitism.”

When asked what happened to the Egyptian police officer who shot his father, Mr. Efrat’s response was tempered. “The police officer was apprehended and arrested, but we don’t know his fate,” he said. “Not that it really matters — whatever his punishment, it will not bring the three Israelis back to life.”

Mr. Efrat described the people of Israel since October 7 as subdued. “It’s not the typical day today in Tel Aviv,” he said. “It is low key — almost tentative — at 10% capacity. There is no New York City-like nightlife. A few cafes are open, but it’s not the same.”

People make certain that wherever they go, there’s a shelter close by in the event of an air raid. “There could be 40, 50, or 60 air raids in one day, with 30 to 60 seconds to get to a shelter or an area of a building that is safe, depending on your proximity to Gaza.

“There are no university classes. The year for college students has not yet opened up because the majority of men have been drafted into the reserves.”

Mr. Efrat believes that the State of Israel is strong, resilient, and unified. “I noticed during shiva for my father that the divisive rhetoric typically expressed has diminished,” he said. “There is no right- or left-wing politics, religious or secular debating. Israelis are bonded by their mutual fate. People are bound by this experience. There is no longer division.”

Chantal and some friends pose together.

Israel will win the war, he said. “If anything, good can come out of this dark time, the true long-term victory is the unification of Israel. We will remember this for generations. The magnitude of the surprise attack was a jolt on everyone at a national level. Ultimately, that jolt may change the tone of discourse between people and life in Israel.

“In terms of humanitarian concern, what I’ve observed among the people of Israel is nothing short of a miracle,” he added. “After the initial shock, brand new charitable organizations have sprung up, bringing food and supplies to the soldiers, offering housing to those who lost their homes. There is a tremendous spirit of giving and volunteerism.”

People want to help.

Aviv Efrat’s message to the Valley Chabad CTeen U class is that it is important to understand the situation clearly. “You will be confronted by Palestinian supporters who feel that Israel is targeting poor, defenseless people,” he said. “Understand that it can be impossible to discern which is which — Hamas or civilians.

“We are not in the business of indiscriminately killing civilians. We are targeting terrorists.

“There is power in knowledge,” he continued.

“Young people repeat the line ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine should be free,’ but often don’t know what it means. They do not understand who Hamas is and how desperately it wants to kill Jewish people.

“They must understand the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and that ‘From the river to the sea’ refers to genocide, an eradicating of our homeland,” Mr. Efrat continued. “Knowledge allows us to respond to questions and ignorant comments with pride in our connection to Israel. Knowledge allows us to defend our responses.”

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