WHENEVER there is news of an Israeli death at the hands of terrorists, we feel as if a member of our own community has been taken, but that feeling was only magnified by last week’s tragic killing of IDF soldier Amit Ben-Ygal.
The 21-year-old’s family has ties with Australia going back to the 1997 Maccabiah bridge disaster when his father Baruch dived into the toxic waters of the Yarkon River and saved Australian junior table tennis player Jonathan Goldberg.
Since then, Baruch has become close friends with a number of Maccabi members and officials, in particular Tom Goldman when he served as the Australian team’s head of delegation, and as Maccabi Australia’s chair. Goldman had attended Amit’s bar mitzvah, and Baruch said Amit considered Tom his “Aussie grandfather”.
At every Maccabiah since 1997, Baruch has helped the Australian delegation, going out of his way to serve as a driver and logistics officer, becoming known as Australia’s “Mr Fix It”.
At the 2013 Games, Amit joined an Australian team junior pre-camp, wore Australia’s team uniform, and became like an adopted member of Australia’s junior team. And he welcomed and supported the Australians at the 2017 Games.
Father and son had visited Australia twice in the last few years, hosted by Maccabi families in Sydney and Melbourne.
Further intensifying the tragedy is that Amit was an only child and Baruch had granted the permission needed to join combat units in such cases. In his eulogy, Baruch reflected, “I’m not a father now. I’m nothing. What a price I have paid.”
But family looks out for family – and from the Ben-Ygals’ Australian “mishpachah” there has been an outpouring of grief, solidarity and support.
Goldman, and Barry Smorgon, Maccabi Australia’s chair, joined members and rabbis for a prayer service on Zoom last Sunday, which Baruch took part in from Israel until he was called away by a visit to his home from Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.
Maccabi Australia will now establish an Amit Ben-Ygal Perpetual Award for a junior Australian Maccabean, in honour of the young soldier’s memory.
As a community, we share the Ben-Ygals’ grief and wish them long life.