ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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A month after his son fell in battle, a father stages a one-man play about October 7

Hagay Lober, a rabbi and an actor, hopes to bring solace with show about the mourning process, by his Jerusalem’s Aspaklaria theater company

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Rabbi and actor Hagay Lober is staging a one-man play in memory of his son, Elisha Yehonatan Lober, a reserve duty soldier killed December 25, 2023, while fighting in Gaza (Courtesy)
Rabbi and actor Hagay Lober is staging a one-man play in memory of his son, Elisha Yehonatan Lober, a reserve duty soldier killed December 25, 2023, while fighting in Gaza (Courtesy)

As Hagay Lober and his family mark thirty days since the death of his son, reserve Staff Sergeant Elisha Yehonatan Lober, during fighting in Gaza, the rabbi and actor will stage a one-man play that he hopes will help him come to terms with his loss and bring comfort to others in wartime.

“October 7” is an an adaption of a one-man show that Lober wrote for his Aspaklaria theater company 20 years ago. It tells the story of Nadav, who is attempting to move on with his life and raise his three children alone after losing his wife, Orly, in a terror attack.

Lober planned on putting on the play after the war broke out on October 7. On that day, Hamas terrorists attacked Israel’s Gaza border communities, killing some 1,200 people, committing atrocities and abducting 253 people to Gaza.

He had planned to make some changes to the manuscript, telling the stories of those who lost their loved ones during those shocking, traumatic events.

On October 8, the sixth of his nine children, whom he calls Yehonatan, was called up for reserve duty.

“I was planning on staging it on January 7, three months after October 7,” said Lober. “Yehonatan was in Gaza. He knew I was doing this play.”

Elisha Yehonatan Lober, a reserve duty soldier killed December 25, 2023 while fighting in Gaza, with his wife, Aviya Lober (Courtesy)

Then, on December 25, Yehonatan was killed in battle.

He left behind his pregnant wife, Aviya Lober, and their 10-month-old son.

“I told my staff that I’m not doing the play. I didn’t have the strength to do it,” said Hagay Lober.

But during the shive, the seven days of mourning, he saw how others needed comfort as well and decided to return to the plan.

Lober will perform “October 7” on Thursday, January 25, marking 30 days since Yehonatan’s death, and then on January 27 and 28, in the Gerard Behar Theater in Jerusalem.

The hourlong play is a monologue delivered by a father who is grieving “but decides to live alongside his mourning,” said Lober.

With a simple set that includes an ironing board and a set of preschoolers’ chairs, the father irons a little girl’s dress, becomes frantic about his other daughter not arriving home on time after going on a bus, and attends a parent-teacher meeting, grappling with all of it as a bereaved single parent.

Rabbi and actor Hagay Lober is staging a one-man play in memory of his son, Elisha Yehonatan Lober, a reserve duty soldier killed December 25, 2023, while fighting in Gaza (Courtesy)

In a twist on his own story, it is Yehonatan Lober’s voice as a five-year-old that’s heard during part of the play. His father had recorded him when he wrote the play 20 years ago.

“It’s very, very hard for me,” said Lober of the rehearsal process. “We sometimes cry, we’re sometimes sad. It’s not hard as an actor because I’m on the stage, and it’s not the same story as ours. But as a person, as a human, it’s hard. And yet, I want to comfort others.”

Lober was a rabbinical student in 1995 when he enrolled in a men’s acting class with actor Shuli Rand at Jerusalem’s Ma’aleh Film School. He ended up staying for three years while also earning his rabbinic ordination, but theater guided his life from then on.

Lober wears a knitted yarmulke, lives in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, and established Aspaklaria (“looking glass” in Aramaic) Theater in 1998 to provide professional opportunities for actors seeking single-gender and religious-friendly productions. The theater eventually included an acting school as well.

He finds comfort in speaking publicly about his son, as he did at a rally at Hostages Square on a recent Saturday night, just after concluding the shiva mourning period for Yehonatan.

Elisha Yehonatan Lober, a reserve duty soldier who was killed December 25, 2023 while fighting in Gaza (Courtesy)

At the rally, Lober described his son as one “who had long sidelocks and a beard and was more of a dreamer than a fighter.” He added, “He went with your courage, to get the hostages out, and that’s what gave him strength.”

Yehonatan’s brother, another reservist soldier, spoke as well, remarking on the religious differences he and his brother had, which he said mirrored the differences among reservists with varying political viewpoints but now experiencing great unity “that will reach every corner of the country.”

Said Lober: “We’ll keep fighting but with the understanding that we’re brothers, we’re part of the same team.”

Their father, Hagay Lober, said the process of putting on the play is a challenge for everyone involved but something to work towards as well.

“It’s not just my hardship but the staff and my family,” said Lober, adding that his daughter-in-law won’t come, and neither will others in his family.  “For some people, it’s hard, and that’s legitimate.”

Work feels like a salve for Lober right now, and he’s planning three more plays with the awareness that his energy and strength may not hold up.

“We’re working on ourselves to have the energy to continue and to grow and to laugh and to work, and I’m sure we’ll have ups and downs and sometimes no desire [to do anything]. But when you know the direction and the goal then it’s easier,” he said.

His son was about to start studying for a degree in education, after working with children in his community.

Lober’s extended family has been in mourning for the better part of a year, since Yehonatan’s first cousins, Hillel and Yigal Yaniv, were killed while driving through the West Bank city of Huwara in February.

Their deaths sparked a flareup of reprisal attacks by Jewish extremist settlers, and at the time, and again when Yehonatan was killed, the family called for a day of unity.

“We request of the media and of every one of our nation, please, one day of unity to uplift his soul. Please don’t write or broadcast anything divisive, please speak good [of others], find the good of the decision makers and of our amazing people who Yehonatan was proud to fight for,” wrote Hagay Lober on Facebook.

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