TORONTO — The Toronto-born mother of a slain Israel Defence Forces soldier is cautioning Diaspora Jewry not to take for granted what Israel means to them.
Cheryl Mandel on her speaking tour of Toronto. Inset: Daniel Mandel
While on a speaking tour of synagogues and Jewish schools in Toronto in April, Cheryl Mandel recalled the life and death of her middle son, Daniel, who was killed while leading an elite anti-terrorism unit – the Palsar Nachal – on a mission in Nablus on April 15, 2003.
Speaking to The CJN by phone from Israel last week, she said the death of any IDF soldier is cause for Jews worldwide to take notice of the crucial role soldiers play in keeping Israel alive and well. It’s a message she took with her to Toronto this past Yom Hazikaron.
She said whether Jews worldwide realize it or not, their ability put on kippot or to eat at a kosher restaurant in the Diaspora is all thanks to IDF soldiers “keeping Israel strong so there won’t be another Shoah. Don’t deceive yourself otherwise. We need to have our young people in the army defending our country.”
Mandel and her husband, David, made aliyah from Toronto 23 years ago, to Gush Etzion in the West Bank, where they raised their five children.
According to Mandel, Daniel was a model soldier who took his comrades under his wing to train them, protect them and teach them “what they were fighting for.”
She said Daniel was a man with a passion and talent for music and academics, and with an indomitable spirit. All that was taken away in a flash of gunfire.
Although she grew up secular, Mandel said she gravitated toward Orthodoxy and eventually became observant before moving to Israel.
She said she feels her upbringing helps her connect with both religious and secular Jews when she spreads her message about Israel.
“What happens in Israel affects every Jew in the world. But when I was secular, I had a sense that I didn’t feel anything in Israel had anything to do with me or what my life was,” she said.
“What I say now is that my son Daniel and all the [IDF] soldiers have something in their lives that they feel is important enough to die for: the existence of the Jewish state. They do it not just because of compulsory conscription, but because they understand what happened to the Jewish people when there wasn’t a Jewish state.”
She said whenever she gets asked whether it’s hard to be in Israel on Yom Hazikaron, she always answers, “It’s hard to be in Israel on Yom Hazikaron. It’s also hard not to be in Israel on Yom Hazikaron.”
Mandel added that in her opinion, Yom Hazikaron isn’t really for the grieving families of those who died in defence of Israel. Rather, the memorial day is for the rest of the nation.
“Because for the families, the loss is with us all the time,” she said.
Mandel was invited here by Mizrachi Organization of Canada to speak about her experience as the parent of a slain soldier. She said she hopes to come back to Toronto and speak to Jewish students on campuses in and around the city to spread her message.
To view Daniel Mandel’s memorial website, visit www.daniel-mandel.co.il