Yom Hazikaron Hits Close to Home for OU Family Members Mourning Loved Ones

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13 May 2024

Fallen Nephew of Orthodox Union Administrator Honored at OU’s Worldwide Yom Hazikaron Commemoration and Siyum

At only 32 years old, Master Sergeant Zechariah Pesach Haber HY”D, of the 14th Armored Brigade’s 87th Battalion, was a rising star. The Jerusalem resident tragically fell in a northern Gaza battle on January 16, while on reserve duty. Zechariah’s death was particularly painful for the Orthodox Union family, as he was the beloved nephew of OU Chief Strategy Officer Rabbi Ilan Haber.

Born in Teaneck, New Jersey, Zechariah was eight years old when he made Aliyah in 1999 with his parents, Aharon and Miriam, and four younger brothers. Known for his modesty, kindness and infectious smile, Zechariah’s greatest sources of pride were his dear wife Talia Zehava, and their three precious children.

“Zechariah was righteous, loved Torah and loved people,” recalls Rav Amnon Bazak of Yeshivat Har Etzion, where Zechariah studied. “He had a heart of gold, was always happy and smiling, talented and serious in all his actions.”

Zechariah deeply appreciated nature, and was known as his family’s resident botanist. Intending to channel his passions into a career, Zechariah earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree with honors in Plant Science from Hebrew University. He dreamed of modernizing agriculture through innovative technology, and at the time of his death, Zechariah was about to complete a Ph.D. in Plant Sciences and Food Security at Tel Aviv University.

“Zechariah was an incredibly kind-hearted, thoughtful person, who had a tremendous curiosity about the world,” reflects Rabbi Haber. “He was genuinely interested in meeting people from different walks of life, and could learn from anybody. He was very disciplined about the things he felt were most important in life. At the same time, he also had a sense of humor and could joke around. He liked hiking and the outdoors, and was totally devoted to his wife and children, with whom he loved to play. He was brilliant in both Torah and science, and was very accomplished, even in his short life.”

In memory of Zechariah and all of the chayalim who gave their lives Al Kiddush Hashem, the OU held a worldwide Siyum on Monday, at a live-streamed Yom Hazikaron Commemoration.

“This year, when so many are grieving their raw and fresh losses, it is a special opportunity for pure and unadulterated empathy, nesius b’ol im chaveiro, as we try our hardest to understand and to relate to the experience of those who have sacrificed their lives for us, for Klal Yisrael, whom no one in the world can approach in their greatness,” says OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer.

Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer speaks at the Yom Hazikaron Commemoration at the OU’s headquarters

Monday’s Yom Hazikaron Commemoration and Siyum included remarks by OU President Mitchel Aeder, Rabbi Moshe Hauer, RIETS (Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary) Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger, who serves as the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, New Jersey, Binghamton University’s OU JLIC (Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) Director Rabbi Ben Menora, and the Haber family. 

The Siyum was on Mishnayos and most of Tanach. The Hadran was said by OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack, and the Kaddish was led by OU Kosher COO Rabbi Moshe Elefant.

The event was emceed by OU Managing Director of Community Engagement Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, who serves as the Rabbi of New Jersey’s Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton. Great Neck Synagogue Chazzan Yitzy Spinner sang the Mishebererach L’Chayalim and Kel Malei tefillot.

Ahead of Yom Hazikaron, the OU launched B’Yachad LaNetzach, a unique initiative which encouraged North American shuls, batei midrash, and schools to join the families of the fallen in recalling and appreciating their profound sacrifice, by memorializing a single soldier who has passed away since October 7. 

“Thanks to this incredible initiative, those who sacrificed their lives are not getting lost in the numbers,” says Rabbi Haber. “Rather, they are being recognized individually for how they lived and engaged with others, and what they accomplished. Linking shuls with specific chayalim so that they can connect with them is a very poignant and appropriate way of recognizing Yom Hazikaron and valuing everyone’s contributions toward the State of Israel’s establishment and continued existence.”

Orthodox Union President Mitchel Aeder speaks at the OU’s Yom Hazikaron Commemoration

B’Yachad LaNetzach aims to bridge the significant gap between Israelis who serve in Tzahal and the vast majority of American Jewry, who cannot fathom the emotional burdens Israelis bear around the war. It also endeavors to offer bereaved families chizuk, and elevate the neshamot of the departed. Participating organizations received a metallic print and bio of their adopted soldier, as well as a connection with their family, where possible.

“Our kedoshim deserve to be remembered individually by having their stories told and by having Torah learned and tefillos said in their memory,” says Rabbi Hauer. “Each and every one of their families deserves to know that their sacrifice is recognized as having been on behalf of all of Klal Yisrael.”

Rabbi Haber is tremendously moved by the OU’s gesture to memorialize Zechariah.

“That the OU chose my nephew to specifically recognize has a deep personal meaning to me, given my long-standing connection with the OU, working first with JLIC and now with OU management. The OU is not just an organization, but a family.”