Lt. Daniel Mandel was killed in action while searching for Hamas terrorists in Israel. Sara Blaustein was murdered when Arabs riddled her car with bullets as she traveled to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Deaths like these could have caused the Mandels and Blausteins to enter a deep depression, leave Israel or any other sad option. Instead, the deaths of these two individuals led their them to turn these tragedies into a source of strength and determination to build the Land of Israel.
As the Jewish nation commemorates fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terror on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s National Memorial Day, from the evening of April 17 through sunset of April 18, we share their stories, Breaking Israel News shares their stories.
Dead, But Alive in Spirit
On April 15 – the eve of Passover in 2003 – Lt. Daniel Mandel was killed when searching in Nablus for wanted Hamas terrorists. Daniel was only 24 years old.
Fifteen years later, shortly before Passover, Cheryl Mandel, Daniel’s mother, was on her way to teach a dance class for bereaved women when she stopped to talk with Breaking Israel News.
“We cannot control what happens to us,” Mandel said. “We can only control our response.”
It is her mantra.
Originally from Toronto, the Mandel family moved to the Gush Etzion settlement of Alon Shvut, southeast of Jerusalem, 30 years ago with a dream of resettling the land of Israel, just as is described in the Torah.
Young and optimistic, they never could have envision what would happen to their son.
Daniel was a member of the Nahal Brigade, an elite combat unit, and he completed an officers training program. Many assumed Daniel was destined to become head of a school of Biblical studies or Chief of Staff in Israel’s army. Instead, his life ended even before it started.
Mandel said that living in the Biblical heartland, she received an outpouring of support and encouragement she is not sure she would have encountered had she been living in a city. This is part of what kept her going after her loss.
“Strength and closeness are bred in settlements and the support system is second to none,” Mandel said. “Had we let ourselves get down, the terrorists would have not only murdered our son, they would have also taken away our spirit.”
Since Daniel’s death, Mandel works tirelessly to keep her son’s memory alive.
For starters, she said at least 18 children have been named after Daniel.
Mandel regularly goes on speaking tours around the world and in Israel to give strength to others facing similar challenges. In addition, many Israeli projects have been sponsored in Daniel’s memory.
Further, the Mandels have carried out multiple philanthropic projects. First, they renovated the Bible study hall at Daniel’s Alon Shvut high school.
“We understood that we were not the only ones to raise Daniel into the outstanding person that he was,” said Mandel. “Those who participated in his formal and informal education from our settlement and the army helped form this special person. We wanted to show appreciation for the wonderful values that he received growing up in Judea.”
The Mandel’s also built a park near Alon Shvut called “Derech Daniel,” Daniel’s Path. Since Daniel was a proficient musician, the park is shaped like a guitar and includes an array of music motifs. Musical instruments were donated in Daniel’s memory, as well.
And there are more.
“Nobody wants their child to be forgotten,” Mandel told Breaking Israel News. “We make efforts to keep Daniel’s memory alive. I tell high-school students, IDF soldiers and everyone I speak with that they need to be part of something that matters enough for them to die for. Israel is important enough to die for, and therefore, we are doing all that we can to live for it.”
Daniel is buried in Kfar Etzion cemetery near Alon Shvut.
“We will never leave where we have settled,” said Mandel. “And, we will carry on Daniel’s love, fearlessness, courage, compassion, friendship, and support of others, throughout Judea and throughout Israel.”
A Strength to All Settlers
Sara Blaustein was murdered in 2001, just after the Shavuot holiday, on the road outside of her Gush Etzion settlement of Efrat, southeast of Jerusalem in Judea. Traveling to pray at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Arabs opened fire, riddling her car with bullets.
The 52-year-old had moved to Israel just nine months earlier from Lawrence, New York, at the height of the second intifada.
“My mother was well aware of what she was doing when she left her beautiful home in New York and moved to the territories, where lives were in danger due to Arab uprisings,” said Blaustein’s daughter, Adena Mark Kapon, to Breaking Israel News. “She took it upon herself to ensure that a Jewish presence remains throughout the Land of Israel and especially at holy sites, like Rachel’s Tomb and Hebron.”
At the time, Israel’s major bus company, Egged, was threatening to cancel busses for Jewish people to go to Rachel’s Tomb due to the danger involved. Blaustein religiously road the busses to the tomb and encouraged others to join her in order to ensure that “Mother Rachel” would never be bereft of Jews praying at her grave.
“My mother knew the importance of strengthening settlers,” continued Kapon. “As she traveled through Judea, she would give candies and treats to IDF soldiers manning checkpoints. She spent a lot of time visiting Jews in both the Jewish and Muslim quarters in the Old City in order to build their morale.”
Blaustein regularly joined Bible study groups, keeping in the forefront of her mind the importance of God’s chosen people and God’s chosen Land. In addition to giving support to local settlers and those in Jerusalem’s Old City, she often visited the holy city of Hebron.
According to Israel’s Population Registry, there are 435,159 Jews living in Judea and Samaria as of January 1, 2018. In addition, there are approximately 315,000 Jews dwelling in East Jerusalem, which is considered by some to be part of the West Bank or settlements.
Days after Blaustein’s murder, her husband Norman published a letter sharing that the term “settlers” is often used to connote some form of fanaticism.
“Actually, my Sara was a perfect example of a member of our community,” he wrote. “She was not an extremist in any way. She was simply another Jewish citizen returning to her national home.”
Blaustein often emphasized the importance of not allowing Arab terror to get the better of the Jewish people or lead them to be fearful. In fact, though her adult children had long-term plans to move to Israel, her death became the catalyst for them and her extended family to settle the Land sooner.
“We felt we had to continue our mother’s dream of settling Israel,” said Kapon. “My parents often said that they had found paradise in Efrat and in the Land of Israel. We feel that there is a purpose to her short life in Israel. Her dream was that all Jews should return to the Holy Land and lead a Torah Life.”
Since her death, a “tribe” of family members has moved to the country.
“The terrorist attack had the opposite effect of scaring Jews away from coming to Israel, it made us more determined to settle the Land,” continued Kapon.
The family notes that Blaustein left her life of comfort in America not only to follow her dream but also to show anybody is capable of settling the Land.
“It made people see…the most important thing is the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. Just being in Israel is, itself, a comfort,” Kapon said.
Blaustein is buried in the same Kfar Etzion cemetery as Daniel Mandel.
It says in Ezekiel 16:6, “Live in spite of your blood.”
That is exactly what the Mandel and Blaustein families do every day, along with the Nation of Israel.
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Written in coordination with The Heart of Israel.