“BARUCH, Maccabi Australia is indebted to you … we share your pain, we grieve with you.”
That was Maccabi Australia chairman Barry Smorgon’s heartfelt message in a special memorial service held last Sunday night via Zoom to “honorary Australian Maccabiah team member”, Baruch Ben-Ygal, whose 21-year-old only child, Amit, was killed last week, the first IDF soldier to die in action this year.
Hundreds of Maccabi members tuned in to the ceremony – “a group hug from Down Under” – organised by Maccabi World Union vice-president Tom Goldman, including Baruch in Tel Aviv, who was in the middle of thanking everybody when Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin knocked on his door to offer his personal condolences.
Although Baruch is Israeli, he is considered like family by Goldman and many Maccabi members from across Australia, forming an unshakeable bond during the 1997 Maccabiah Games bridge collapse disaster, which killed four Australians and injured more than 60.
Baruch had selflessly dived into the Yarkon River to rescue people, and saved the life of Australian junior table tennis player Jonathan Goldberg, reuniting with him beside the river at a memorial service at the 2005 Games.
When Goldberg married his wife Lauren in October 2011, Baruch attended their wedding, and last year when they had their fourth child, they gave him the middle name Baruch.
Just before last Sunday’s service, Goldberg told The AJN, “Amit was not just the centre of Baruch’s universe, he was his universe.”
Smorgon described Baruch as the Australian team’s “Mr Fix It” at every Maccabiah Games since 1997 in his capacity as a volunteer driver, logistics officer and personal assistant to every head of delegation of the Australian team, and a host of team leaders and managers.
“His love of Maccabi Australia is unlimited, and he cannot do enough to please anyone associated with the Australian team – I’ve been in awe of his ability and connections that enable him to seemingly do the impossible.
“During the 2013 Maccabiah Games, Amit stayed with our junior team during its five-day pre-camp … he proudly wore the Australian shirt, and he certainly made a positive impact on everybody he met.”
Smorgon, Goldman and Harry Procel each spent up to 15 hours per day with Baruch when they served stints as Australia’s head of delegation at Maccabiah, and they all hosted Baruch and Amit when they visited Australia together on two occasions.
“I feel heartbroken for Baruch – he is the type of person who walks into a room and just lights it up,” Procel said.
Goldman said his last memory of being with Amit was a year ago at a Yom Ha’atzmaut changing-of-the-guard ceremony at Mount Herzl – which Smorgon also attended – “when I danced with Amit and Baruch”.
He recalls how, when attending Amit’s bar mitzvah in Israel eight years ago, Amit had introduced him to his friends as his Aussie “grandfather”.
“For more than 20 years I was privileged to watch Amit grow and blossom from a baby to a child, to a young man and then to a soldier who served his country in an elite army unit by personal choice,” Goldman said.
Paying a condolence call on the family of Staff Sergeant Amit Ben Yigal ז"ל today. A hero who has become a symbol for us all. Dedicated, a Zionist, full of life, taken from us so soon. Too soon.
Photo: Mark Neyman (GPO) pic.twitter.com/dTLksaukz0
— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) May 17, 2020
“He has been tragically taken from us in the line of duty.
“My deepest regret is that, due to COVID-19, I’m unable to be with you [Baruch] in person, to cry with you and to help support you through this unimaginable reality.”
Rabbi Levi Wolff from Central Synagogue and Caulfield Synagogue’s chazan Dov Farkas sang prayers at the virtual service. In a message to the family, Rabbi Wolff said, “Even though you are oceans apart and a world away from us, our hearts are bleeding with you.”
Before the service concluded, Smorgon announced a Maccabi Australia perpetual award will be named in Amit’s honour for a junior member of the Australian team at every Maccabiah Games who demonstrates leadership and determination.
“It is the very least we can do to always remember a delightful young man and a true mensch,” Smorgon said.