Staff Sgt. Valentin Elie Ghnassia, a 22-year-old French national, was serving as a foreign volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces when he was shot and killed in action by Hamas terrorists while defending Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7.
Ghnassia was soon to celebrate his 23rd birthday and was weeks away from completing his 18-month army service in the Mahal program. He was buried at the Mt. Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem in the presence of his parents, grandparents, and sister, Chloé, who came from France. Three hundred people attended his funeral.
Born in France to a non-practicing Jewish family, Ghanassia attended law school in Montpellier. It was there that he got involved with the Olami Association (meaning “My World” in Hebrew), which engages young Jews between the ages of 18 and 30 in social activities, Shabbat meals, debates and other activities, recalls the association’s president, Yann Arnoux.
Ghnassia had taken Hebrew classes at Olami before coming to Israel in 2022. Although he was not religious, his search for his identity led him to Israel, say those who knew him in Montpellier.
“He wasn’t religious, his family was not active in the Jewish community. He sometimes went to the synagogue with his maternal grandfather, but he questioned his Jewishness a lot,” added Yann Arnoux.
“Valentin asked himself a lot of questions, notably on the impact that he could have as a Jew,” confirmed Ghnassia’s university friend Carla Mathiou to AFP.
“He was always joyous, always with a smile. He was also very sensible, but he loved to move and party,” said Mathiou, who now lives in Montreal but had remained in contact with Ghnassia. “In Montpellier, we are a little community, so when one of us dies, we lose a brother.”
Ghnassia studied law “because he cared about defending the other, but he also wanted to be on the ground,” confided another of his friends in Montpellier, who preferred to stay anonymous, recalling a boy who was “a ray of sun.”
“In Israel, he discovered a country that embraced his identity, without fear of any problems. If we wanted to integrate into Israel, the army is a passageway,” said Arnoux.
After his service, Ghnassia “wanted to start a business, to make money” because he had an “adventurous side” and he “was buzzing” with projects. “And then he had reached this level of maturity that made him want to start a family,” he added.
His mother, Geneviève Molina, gave an emotional testimony in a video, sharing her “enormous suffering.” There, she described Ghnassia as “very playful, very active, very energetic, always giving hugs, warm.”
She said he was very fulfilled in Israel and was very attached to the country he discovered thanks to a Taglit trip.