JTA — On Friday, shortly before his unit was sent into the northern Gaza Strip as part of Israel’s war to eradicate Hamas, Sgt. Maj. (res.) Yossi Hershkovitz made a video for the students at ORT Pelech High School for boys in Jerusalem, where he was the principal.
“Today in Israel there is no right wing, no left wing, no Haredim. Just Jews,” he said in the video, wearing his green fatigues. He offered words from Torah, and quoted the late chief rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks, about holding onto one’s faith during times of crisis and the Jewish people’s power to bring light to the world.
“Yossi’s approach to teaching was rooted in compassion and caring for each student as an individual,” wrote Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, principal of SAR Academy in the Bronx, the Modern Orthodox day school where Hershkovitz and his wife Hadas taught from 2012-2016. “He was a man of strong ideals and Torah principles, living out his beliefs both in and out of the classroom.”
Hershkovitz, 44, was among five reservists killed in Gaza on Sunday by a blast from a booby-trapped tunnel shaft next to a mosque in the Beit Hanoun area. The troops were outside the Hamas-dug tunnel when the blast occurred.
Also killed in the blast was television producer Matan Meir, 38, from Odem in the Golan Heights, who was best known for his work on the award-winning Israeli television show “Fauda,” whose third season focused on an Israeli undercover unit operating in the Gaza Strip.
As an educator, Hershkovitz was beloved on three continents. At SAR, he taught Hebrew and led the school’s annual Memorial Day service for fallen Israeli soldiers. He was also known to pick up his violin and play at school events. His innovations included Me’orav Yerushalmi — an interdisciplinary learning program blending religious and secular studies, now replicated in numerous schools.
“His sacrifice for his beloved Israel reflects the same dedication and commitment he showed his students every day,” Kraus wrote in a note to parents, appealing for support for Hershkowitz’s widow and five children.
In the summers of 2014-2015, he also worked as an educator and “Rosh Tzofiyut” (head of scouting) at Camp Moshava I.O., a Modern Orthodox summer camp in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, as principal of ORT Pelech, he forged connections with Mount Scopus Memorial College in Melbourne, Australia, which sends students on a nine-week exchange program to ORT Pelech each year.
“Yossi was a beloved administrator, a first-rate educator, a man of the people, full of love and giving, who saw in front of him the path to doing good and creating a brighter and better world,” the CEO of the ORT network, Tzvika Peleg, told the Times of Israel.
Hershkovitz lived in Gva’ot, a community in the Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank. He received his bachelor of arts degree in Near and Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He also worked for three years as a security guard in the Prime Minister’s Office.
After his funeral on Monday, a motorcade brought his family to the Pelech school in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood, where colleagues, students and their parents lined the road.
“We are not used to coming to school and not seeing our principal at the gate, greeting us in the morning,” Gilad Barchad, 13, told the Jerusalem Post.