10 Tishrei 5781 / Monday, September 28, 2020 | Torah Reading: Ha'azinu
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Ben wanted to be one of those guys, but he knew that he had little chance of being accepted to Golani. He was out of shape and almost 90 pounds overweight…


Another red alert siren and people in Ashdod scrambled to the nearest bomb shelters. The Gazans had upgraded from homemade Qassam missiles to Iran-provided Katyusha-type GRAD missiles that were much more devastating. One fell in a kindergarten near Ben's home but thanks to Hashem, it was ten minutes after the children and their teachers went home. Ben's blood boiled. This was no battle on the other end of the world like some countries fight. This is a battle for our home, in our own backyard.


Ben dreamed of being a combat soldier in the infantry. And, of all the infantry units, he wanted to be a Golanchik, a fighter in the legendary Golani Brigade. Although the unit traditionally served in the north of Israel on the Lebanon and Syrian borders, in recent years, they had been pulling extensive Gaza border duty, protecting the south of Israel. Ben wanted to be one those guys, but he knew that he had little chance of being accepted. He was out of shape and almost 90 pounds overweight.



When you want something with all your heart, you go for it. Ben chucked the cokes, beers, and pizza and started working out. He ran, he lifted, he sweat. He lost 88 pounds and transformed himself from a couch potato to a mean-and-lean machine. He was accepted into Golani. He trained well and became a full-fledged Golanchik.


On July 7, 2014, after seven Hamas terrorists died in a tunnel explosion, Hamas fired 40 rockets at Ashdod and Ashkelon. Meanwhile, IDF intel had clarified that the military wing of Hamas had been behind the June 12, 2014 kidnapping and murder of three yeshiva students in Gush Etzion, Naftali Frenkel (16), Gilad Shaer (16), and Eyal Yifrah (19). That was the last straw. Israel decided to launch Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza and a ground invasion began on July 17, 2014.


One of the key targets in Gaza was Shejaya. Shejaya, which lies just over the border fence with Israel, was a hornet's nest. Every school, mosque and hospital was a safe-house for Hamas mobile-missile crews who from time to time would pop to the surface and fire missiles at the south of Israel. Shejaya was the main Hamas stronghold and headquarters in northern Gaza, a formidable booby-trapped fortress of weapons, rockets, mobile missile launchers, command and communication centers.


Shejaya made Vietnam look like Sesame Street…


As soon as the war began, Hamas fired more than 140 rockets from Sejaya into the south of Israel. Aerial photos showed GRAD rockets being fired from a Shejaya mosque, the launch of an M75 rocket from a Shejaya hospital, another M75 rocket launch site in a Shejaya children’s playground, and if that's not sadistic, inhuman and sinister enough, there was a munitions and rocket facility in a Shejaya cemetery.


Israel had to hit Sejaya, but everyone knew that it would be costly. There was no choice – civilian life in the south of Israel had come to a halt.


The 13th aka "Gideon" Battalion of Golani, Ben's unit, entered Gaza on Motzaei Shabbat, Saturday after sundown on July 19, 2014. The fighting was fierce. The commander of Golani, Colonel Ghassan Elian, was badly wounded.


No one knows why Golani used antiquated armored personnel carriers (APC) in this extremely dangerous mission. A 1970s-model IDF APC stalled in one of the Sejaya's narrow streets, causing a bottleneck for the incoming Golani assault force. There was a traffic jam and the Israeli APC became a sitting duck. Immediately, Hamas terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at the APC and scored a direct hit. The vehicle exploded and burst into flames, causing immense damage and killing all the soldiers inside.


Meanwhile, at 1:05 AM on Sunday morning, July 20, 2014, a huge anti-tank mine exploded under another "Gideon" APC, killing another seven soldiers from the 13th battalion of the Golani Brigade. One of those was Ben Vanono, may Hashem avenge his martyred blood. Sergeant Oron Shaul, 21, was killed in the same attack. Hamas terrorists managed to abduct Oron's body and to this day, have yet to return it.


Dedicated "Golanchik" and Ashdod resident, Sergeant Ben Yitzchak Vanono HY"D (image, above), sacrificed his life for his people and his country at the tender age of 19. The son of Ilan and Sarit, Ben is the story of all that's beautiful in Israeli youth. We'll never forget him.

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