'He would never hang up on you'

‘He wore his heart on his sleeve’: Friends remember Elan Ganeles

Those who knew the 26-year-old Israeli-American victim of terror recall a young man who prioritized others and pushed them to grow: ‘If he loved you, he told you all the time’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Elan Ganeles (C) and Akiva Garfield (L). (Courtesy)
Elan Ganeles (C) and Akiva Garfield (L). (Courtesy)

Hours after his funeral, friends of Elan Ganeles described him as singularly selfless and dedicated to those around him.

“I think the most important thing to him were his friends,” said Akiva Rockland, who grew up with Ganeles in West Hartford, Connecticut. “He was wholly focused on it, and he was devoted to it in a way like I’ve never seen before.”

Ganeles was killed by a Palestinian gunman in the Jordan Valley on Monday evening as he drove to the wedding of Maayan, Akiva’s older sister.

“He was singularly focused on making his friends feel good, on lifting them up,” the younger Rockland continued, speaking to The Times of Israel by phone after eulogizing his lifelong friend in Raanana on Wednesday.

He recalled Ganeles flying to Chicago, Philadelphia, Michigan and even Africa to visit friends.

And, of course, he traveled to Israel to attend Maayan’s wedding, held just outside of Jerusalem.

People attend the funeral of Elan Ganeles, who was killed in a terror shooting attack in the West Bank, in Ra’anana, on March 1, 2023. (Flash90)

Akiva and Elan went to high school together, moved to Israel to attend yeshivas, and both stayed on as lone soldiers in the IDF.

After their military service, Ganeles went to Columbia, and Rockland attended NYU. The two moved into an Upper West Side apartment together six months ago.

“I don’t think I made a single major decision in my life over the last five, six years without consulting him,” Rockland explained.

Elan Ganeles (L) at a friend’s wedding. (Courtesy)

Akiva Garfield was roommates with Ganeles in yeshiva.

“We cut classes every day to do excursions,” Garfield said with a laugh. “I don’t know if it’s been mentioned, but he was the greatest planner alive. You had an hour and a half to see something, he would plan what you would see, the most efficient way to do it, and him and I just did that every day.”

Garfield described Ganeles’s personality as “omnipresent.”

“He had all these things going on. And yet when you were with him, he made you feel like you were the center of his world. And if you were talking to him, he wasn’t just nodding and going yeah. He would ask you with these in-depth questions that nobody else would ever ask.”

Ganeles was such a devoted friend that he was “unable to prioritize his own health or money,” according to Garfield.

“If you wanted to talk to him until six in the morning on FaceTime because you wanted to feel like someone was going to support you, he would be doing that for you. He would never hang up on you,” he said. “He would never let something as silly as sleeping get in the way of his friends.”

Elan Ganeles (L) and Akiva Garfield. (Courtesy)

The last time Garfield saw Ganeles was in late February, before he flew to California and then Israel. Garfield and his wife came back to their apartment late on a Sunday night, and found Ganeles waiting for them so he could give them a hug and say goodbye in person before traveling.

His friends said Ganeles was considering moving back to Israel, and was speaking to them about moving together.

Garfield said he plans on hosting an event every year on the anniversary of Ganeles’s death for those who knew him.

“He knew us each so well, and he was such a big part of each of our lives,” said Rockland. “We were all affected by him and altered by him and forced to reconsider things by him. And a lot of my development, and I’m sure others would say the same thing, a lot of my growth was provoked, triggered, caused by him.”

“He wore his heart on his sleeve more than anybody I knew,” Garfield concluded. “If he loved you, he told you, and he told you all the time. If he missed you, he told you.”

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