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He should have been home today...



He should have been home with his wife and kids today. Instead, we attended his funeral yesterday. It was about two months ago that we met Lieutenant Colonel Netanel “Nati” Yaacov Elkouby, 36. We have been working with two primary units, one in the north and the other in Gaza. Nati leads Battalion 630 in Gaza. Last month, he took me and Elana on a private tour of Kibbutz Nir Oz, where a quarter of its residents were either killed or taken into captivity.


Last night was supposed to be a banquet for Battalion 630. We were going to present each soldier with engraved backpacks. We were working with our friend Carine for a festive meal. We would celebrate that they were going home after four months and there were no casualties.



Late last week, they were told that they needed to stay in Khan Younis, home to Hamas's ruthless leader Yahya Sinwar, for a few more days. Two days ago, while in an apartment building in Khan Younis, Hamas terrorists shot an RPG at the building, which had been booby-trapped with explosives. The resulting explosion claimed Nati's life and two other members of Battalion 630, Maj. (res.) Yair Cohen, 30, and Sgt. First Class (res.) Ziv Chen, 27. All three were buried yesterday. 




Israelis bury their dead within 24 hours. I know that seems harsh to the Western mind. But then they take the next week to open their home to visitors to remember the fallen soldier. We hope to go visit Sirit and her family on Shabbat evening.


Nati's widow Sirit eloquently shared


Albert, Nati’s father


 

We are raising funds to bless his wife and children if you would like to give. we will take this from our war relief fund.



 

I was praying yesterday morning, and honestly, it has been very hard to experience God’s presence in this season. I keep thinking of the Scripture in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” I used to think of that passage as a responsibility. If someone is suffering, I need to suffer with them. But I’ve come to see that it is much more organic than that. I mean that when one member suffers, without even knowing, there is a sense of suffering in the spiritual ecosystem. I felt like that’s what the Lord was saying to me: It’s not a time to experience joy. So, I prayed joylessly and embraced the sadness that had my soul at unease. Moments later, Elana came out on the balcony in tears.


I immediately called Noam (whose picture you saw the other day). He is a reserve soldier in the 630 Battalion. I wanted to make sure that he was OK. He was, but he was there when it happened. Our other contact, Ran, we knew was already out because of a severe fever… a fever that may have saved his life.


Elana and I were already planning to drive north to Tel Aviv, and it only took a few minutes in the car before we canceled all our plans and kept driving north to Haifa, about two hours from Ashkelon, where we live, to pay our respects. Over 1,000 people came to the funeral to honor the reserve lieutenant colonel who was a full-time chef in his other life.


When we met Nati in December, he told us he was the head chef at the Five Star Gale Kineret Hotel (the Waves of the Sea of Galilee). A few years back, Elana and I had the opportunity to help lead a tour of about 80 CEOs. We told Nati that we stayed at his hotel and enjoyed his food. He told us, “When the war is over, you must come back and eat.” We were looking forward to that.


Sometime in October, we were introduced to Ran. He explained that his unit was in need of bulletproof vests and helmets. We turned to you, and you were able to provide the funds. In December, they finally received them and invited Elana and me to come down to Kibbutz Sufa, which they had turned into a makeshift army base. Sufa is almost in Egypt. You might remember that they held a small ceremony to honor our donors. As I’m writing this, in front of me is the plaque they gave us from “Chayle Umephakde G’dud 630” (from the soldiers and officers of Battalion 630).


His father spoke eloquently at his funeral. He, too, was a soldier and was injured in battle many years ago. He implored Nati not to follow in his footsteps after his initial three years of service (like all Israeli men). But Nati was determined not just to serve but to lead. He was initially rejected by the special forces, but he would not give up. He finally found his place in the army and worked his way up to his most recent promotion of lieutenant colonel and battalion commander.


“From the first day, October 7, he was on mission. He went down south. While going, he took the initiative without permission and mobilized his entire regiment. The entire first period was spent clearing the towns and kibbutzim in the area near Gaza from terrorists,” said his father. “He was always trying to convince his superiors that his battalion was fit to be part of the mission (even though they were reserves). They refused him, rejected him, but in the end, he won… like always.” 


Nati and Sarit had already had three young girls who were growing when they were shocked and happily surprised to find out four years ago that they were pregnant with twins. Through tears, his wife said that a few weeks ago, one of their daughters said to him: “Daddy is a commander in the army, and you are a commander at home.” She thanked him for 19 wonderful years together. "We've been together since age 17; he was my whole life."


His sister said she begged him the other day not to be a hero. She just wanted him to come home. He told her he would do what was needed. But when she heard their mission was over last week, she said to herself, “Zihiti!” (I got the prize!). But as fate would have it, they found that they were needed for one last mission to carry out this week, and that turned out to be his last.



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Shalom from Israel! I am Ron Cantor and this is my blog. I serve as the President of Shelanu TV.

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