Gifts from our fallen son, Daniel Perez, z”l

In Short

We received two totally unexpected posthumous gifts from our son.

On Oct. 7, our son Daniel, an officer and commander of his tank crew, was based in the Nachal Oz army base in southern Israel. They fought courageously and valiantly for two and a quarter hours until their tank was eventually overrun by Hamas terrorists. 

Their tank’s position was between Kibbutz Nachal Oz and the Gaza border, and they did all they could between 6:45 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. to prevent the first two waves of terrorists from entering the base and the kibbutz. In their final battle, they saw hordes of invading terrorists on motorbikes crossing the border. Without fear or hesitation, Daniel and his crew left the security of their position to try to cut the terrorists off and to prevent their murderous intentions. After a brave battle, their tank was eventually overrun.

Crewmember Tomer’s lifeless body was found in the tank later that day; Daniel and two of his crewmates, Itai and Matan, were taken captive. After 163 days of torturous anticipation, anxiety, activism and prayer, our son was declared dead — his death was determined to have taken place on Oct. 7 itself. His body is still being held by Hamas. We hope and pray that it is soon returned, along with those of all of the other deceased hostages, for a dignified burial; and that all those still alive be immediately reunited with their families.

During the last painful and challenging seven months, so many positive and unexpected things have been gifted to us. Among these remarkable things, our son has given us two totally unanticipated and unforeseeable gifts.

The first is his incredible group of friends. My wife, Shelley, constantly says that this is perhaps the greatest gift that Daniel has left her. We knew he had many friends, but we didn’t always appreciate how many there were and the depths of those friendships. These friends don’t leave us alone for a second. We are on WhatsApp groups with them, and they come to our home regularly to look after our needs. They are here for us all the time. They are now our friends — so much so that, before we knew of his death, we would joke and say that when Daniel hopefully comes back, he will not be impressed by how we have taken all of his friends and will demand them all back. 

Daniel was a genius of friendship, with hundreds of friends — tens of whom were absolutely convinced that they were his best friend, or he was theirs. Friends from South Africa, were he lived until making aliyah two months after his bar mitzvah; friends from our hometown of Yad Binyamin and the surrounding area; friends from his high school in Yerucham; friends from the army; and all types of people whom he met in between and on the way. On his grave, we wrote, “Daniel ish hamudot,“Daniel the beloved man.” This line is from a verse in the Book of Daniel, describing how the biblical Daniel was so beloved by all whom he encountered. So too, our Daniel was beloved and endeared himself to so many, but to none more than to his family and his incredible array of friends.

A second remarkable gift that Daniel left us was a diary that he had been writing before his death — something we knew nothing about. This was found among the many possessions of his that were returned to us in boxes from the Nachal Oz base. 

Some of the things written in the opening pages of the diary gave us a glimpse into a side of Daniel that we did not know and which he didn’t speak much about. It moved me to the core of my being.

The first page of the diary, which he began writing in preparation for his first position as a commanding officer, opens with a heading: “Things I think about before going to sleep.” The first thing he mentions is the impact of his high school Poland trip, particularly after visiting the extermination camps — the price we paid as Jews not having a state and ability to defend ourselves. Now we have the privilege of a Jewish state and the opportunity to defend our national home and our families. He then concludes this first point with a charge for himself: “Im lo ani, az mi?” “ If not me, then who?”

In Daniel’s deepest thoughts about his purpose at this point in his life, he felt the privilege of being a soldier and the need to stand up and be counted (“If not me, then who?”) — not to shirk responsibility but to assume it to do whatever he could for his people and family.

The second thing he reflects on is the personality of a fallen officer, Major Bar Falah, z”l, using an incredible quote that was part of a speech Bar gave on Yom HaZikaron two years ago, months before he tragically fell in battle. This was something Daniel wanted to reflect on every night before going to sleep:

“On Memorial Day we learn that there is something greater than life itself. There is something for which we are prepared to sacrifice our lives — the State of Israel. I will think about this at the time of the siren; while I stand with all the people of Israel in silence, I will remember all those heroes, but I will not bow my head. I lift my head up with a sharp look at the flag, with an upright chest, with pride, because these are all my brothers, brave and daring who, in the moments of truth, put aside all their personal desires and give their lives for the sake of G-d, our people and our country.”

I think that two sentiments caught his attention in these words. First, not looking downwards but looking upwards towards the flag with pride — what it means to fight for Israel and what it means to share a kinship with the fallen soldiers of Israel. Second, the way Bar concludes that life requires us at times to put aside self-focused individual needs for the sake of values much greater than ourselves.

Yom HaZikaron commemorates the incredible price we have paid for Israel and the enormous pain that we feel. Yom HaAtzmaut celebrates the miraculous privilege we have of an independent state of Israel in our day — a privilege we ought never take for granted.

Rabbi Doron Perez is the executive chairman of World Mizrachi and father of IDF Cpt. Daniel Perez, z”l.