Yossi Hershkowitz
Yossi HershkowitzCourtesy of the Family

Three-and-a-half months after Yossi Hershkowitz, principal of the Ort Pelech boys school in Jerusalem, fell in battle in Gaza, his students have some closure.

Many times Yossi tried to organize an Israel Tour (Masa Yisraeli) for his school, but it never happened for budgetary reasons. Now it did. The 11th and 12th grade students at Ort Pelech went on a week of volunteering and after a day in Dimona they arrived at Kfar Etzion, where they met Yossi’s family, who came to strengthen them and receive encouragement themselves.

Yossi’s widow, Hadas, spoke to the young boys: “One of the reasons that it was so important for Yossi to run the Masa Yisraeli program is his connection to our history, his connection to our roots. This was Yossi’s raison d’etre. This was expressed in the strongest way on October 7th (Simchat Torah), when Yossi left for shul (synagogue) at 8am and came back home at 8:02. He walked in the door, looked at me with a serious look and said, ‘We’re at war.’”

Hadas continued, “A few minutes later he told me that he feels that they are humiliating our nation, and I won’t let that happen. Even though he had many reasons not to go – he was 44, he suffered from celiac and several others, mainly that he had a large school and a family, but at that moment he made a decision that he was going out to fight. Shortly after that, Yossi sent his students a video clip, which is one of his last messages to his students.”

His student related that in this video clip Yossi said, “I am asking each and every one of you, personally, not to slander the Jewish People. There is no left and no right. There is no haredi. We are all Jews.”

About a month later Yossi fell in Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip, in a terrorist attack that killed three of his friends and severally injured Elisha Medan, who lost both legs, but survived.

Rabbi Yaakov Medan, Elisha’s father, spoke to the boys: “I see here only good faces. I hear the singing and I see you walking on the right path. So, I say to myself, I can see Yossi’s fingerprints here. I am honored to be here with you, who are his students, and I ask myself, ‘Who are those who are going to carry the burden on the long haul?’ I know that you are the first ones to get up and go.”

Yoav Hershkowitz, Yossi’s student and nephew, said, “Today our focus was on loving others, respecting others, regardless of who they are and what their opinions are. Always smile at people, be polite, and respect them.”

Hadas added, “What we see here is a life enterprise, and a missed opportunity. And it stopped all at once. His students, the spark of continuity, seeing what an amazing influence he had on his school, his staff, his students.”

Amichai, Yossi’s student, recalled, “Yossi believed in thinking of others, and then yourself. He conveyed it in a way that you say to yourself, ‘Hey, I want to be like him. I want to be like Yossi.’ Thank you Yossi for educating us. Thank you for making us who we are. Thank you for being our father, friend and principal. And, ultimately, we are so grateful to God for giving us such a person in our lives.”