Sunday, April 17, 2011

Return to Shechem - Remembering Daniel Mandel, HY"D

Eight years ago on 13 Nissan, Lt. Daniel Mandel, HY”D, was killed in an operation in the city of Shechem, as he commanded a Palsar Nachal unit in search of Arab terrorists. The mission was successful, but, Daniel, the commander was mortally wounded by one of the three terrorists.
Sunday is the yahrzeit of Daniel. Rosh Tzurim's Adina Hershberg wrote about Daniel in this issue of VOICES Magazine,, and I added the Shechem update.

This year on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, Daniel’s father, Dr. David Mandel of Alon Shevut, organized a bus of friends and neighbors to travel to the Tomb of Joseph in Shechem for a prayer service in Daniel’s memory. Coordinated by the Shomron Regional Council, the Israel Defense Forces and the One Shechem Organization, Dr. Mandel’s group joined about 2000 worshippers at the renovated site. Joseph’s Tomb had been destroyed ten years ago during the violence of the intifada. After a visit years ago Dr. Mandel had urged the Army to repair the holy site, which was given to Israel in the Oslo Accords. It has finally been restored. As Nissan drew near, Dr. Mandel felt strongly that he should pray in Kever Yosef, which was so close to the place his son had been killed. In an emotional ceremony, the head of the Shomron Regional Council Gershon Mesika addressed the Mandel family and those gathered in the middle of the night in Shechem. “On Pesach, we say twice, ‘Through your blood you shall live and I said to you through your blood you shall live.’ All geula is connected with blood. All steps forward were made with sacrifices.” But Mayor Mesika added words of comfort. “In Nissan we were redeemed, and in Nissan we will be redeemed.”
Prayers at Joseph's Tomb
Dr. David Mandel recited kaddish at Kever Yosef and told those around him, “Daniel was moser nefesh (sacrificed himself) here in Shechem, and I hope our coming here today will help Am Yisrael keep this place.” Eve of Pesach 8 Years Ago Two days before Pesach 2003, while Jews the world over were busy with the myriad details of Pesach preparation, the Mandel family of Alon Shevut, their relatives, friends and acquaintances gathered at the grave of Daniel Mandel, killed in the line of duty at the age of 24. Daniel’s unit had encircled a building in Shechem in search of wanted Arab terrorists responsible for the deaths of at least 30 and the injury of over 140 Israelis. The soldiers succeeded in locating the men. Two terrorists surrendered and then one came out shooting. Despite the bullet-proof vest he was wearing, Daniel Mandel was hit by a bullet that struck just outside the vest, permeated his heart and killed him instantly. Daniel's mother, Cheryl, had told friends that when the Mandels moved to Israel from Canada, they did so “because this is the place where Jews should live. We brought our family here because it is our homeland. We accepted that this is a country where there were difficulties and there might be a price. …."

The Mandels' price was the loss of their loving son and brother. Daniel's younger brother Gabriel remembered him. "Daniel had a fantastic combination [of characteristics] and because of it everyone admired him so much. It was a combination of quietness and never-ending strength, a combination of loving people without boundaries and real stern-ness when needed, and a combination of delicate and pure avodat Hashem and uncompromising army professionalism…How characteristic it is that he was killed in defending Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael which he so loved."

Cheryl said, "Coming from Canada I hadn't had the experience of family members being in the army. I found the army with its framework to be easier than having teenagers driving late at night and going to all sorts of places. At least in the army they were on a base and had a schedule. Until Daniel was killed I never worried."

A Fine Character

The Mandels made Aliyah when Daniel, the third of five Mandel children, was eight years old. "Daniel was fine wherever you'd put him. He always became the leader. He had a certain charisma," Cheryl related. "Daniel was like David [his father, a psychiatrist] in that he was centered, calm and a thinker. He was very social, but he was comfortable going off in his own direction. Daniel was like me in that he was fun-loving and sociable," Cheryl said. When Daniel was twelve, he won two tickets to Euro Disney. Cheryl was willing to buy a third ticket and take his brother Jonah, as well. But Daniel's father David said that he wasn't comfortable with their going at all. "Someone suggested we ask a posek and so we decided to go to HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ztz'l. We agreed that we would accept his decision, whatever it was. The Rav said not to go. It was a very traumatic experience for Daniel. He cried all the way home and then went to mincha. It was hard, but he accepted it," Cheryl recalled. With the money he received instead of the trip, he bought a guitar and amplifier, which reinforced his love of music. Daniel had been a very talented musician. His first instrument was the piano. He also learned how to play the guitar, harmonica and bagpipes. Since his death, his friends have organized an annual evening with music and song around the time of his birthday (January 6th). Daniel's older sister Nicole described how Daniel was an angel at home, but a bit mischievous and even chutzpadik in school. She described him as generous, and related that when she, Jonah, and Daniel were young they were each given $2 to buy something at a science museum. "When we got back home Daniel gave Jonah, my parents and me each a gift from the museum store." She continued, "Daniel was a leader. He was always happy, always smiling and he tried to make everyone happy." "As an adult Daniel became more religious. He was very strong in his belief. He was always looking for a way to be the best he could. He was very strong in his direction, but if he made a mistake, he would admit it," commented Nicole. "Daniel, who studied in the army preparatory Atzmona Yeshiva before enlisting in the IDF, had a gift of being able to educate. I think he probably would have become a teacher. When he was at yeshiva he was a very serious student. He always tried to do his best. In the army he wanted to do his total best as well," Cheryl said. Like both his parents, he was also involved in chesed. He felt that soldiers should do more than what was required of them in the army. He took his soldiers to volunteer in a shelter for battered women, in a home for developmentally disabled, with youth in distress, with children from poor social-economic backgrounds, etc.

In a book entitled Fragments of Memories, Daniel's father David wrote, "…you were a wonderful son: straight and truthful, beloved and likeable, charming and pleasant, good and handsome…" Continuing His Memory Since his death, Cheryl and David have spent much of their time doing good. Nicole noted, "At the funeral my mother spoke about how bad things happen, and it matters what one does with them. Daniel's death has brought a lot of good. On a personal level, one grows from grief. My parents established The Mandel Fund in his memory. There have also been various chesed projects in his memory. (The Beit Midrash in the local school, where Daniel learned, was renovated with funds from The Mandel Fund. A local Alon Shevut park is underway as well.) My father volunteered in the North during the Second Lebanon War and he continues to volunteer in Sderot, where he established a holistic trauma center."

Cheryl was completing the run of the Raise Your Spirits theater production of ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court when Daniel was killed. Since then, she has performed in NOAH! Ride the Wave!, RUTH & NAOMI in the Fields of Bethlehem, and In Search of COURAGE. She has also choreographed 60s dance numbers for the past four years of the Dames of the Dance mega-dance spectaculars, whose proceeds go to feed needy families in Efrat/Gush Etzion before Passover. Cheryl is in contact with a few other Army families who have lost a son. She said they all deserve "a big hug". She observed, "We [bereaved family members] are a vulnerable species. I'm respectful of my limits and try to be good to myself…We're grateful for what we have - four children and six grandchildren. I don't want people to feel sorry for me." Over the past years, Cheryl has addressed gatherings around the world on Yom HaZikaron. This year on Memorial Day, Cheryl will be speaking about Daniel and the soldiers and victims of Arab terror to audiences in South Africa. On the anniversary of his death, the 13th of Nissan, following a visit to his kever there is learning in Daniel's memory and a quiet get-together. Nicole said, "It's a difficult time (so close to Pesach) for people to come for the yahrzeit.…Part of the pain is seeing my parents lose a child…My father helps everyone. He is the healer…" One of Daniel's soldiers wrote, "You stamped your imprint upon all of us, and we proudly carry your image and your name with us everywhere. In each one of us there is a piece of you, each one of us labors more in your merit, in each one of us there is a Mandel that lives and kicks and breathes." When Daniel was killed, his family vowed to strengthen themselves and build themselves in order to do good in Daniel’s name. This they have done, so that the spirit of Daniel Mandel and his love for the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and the Torah will continue on in his community and in many worthy Jewish causes.

Adina Hershberg is a freelance writer from Rosh Tzurim.

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