An ardent Zionist dedicated to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, and a close and devoted friend, is how Eli Kay, who was shot dead by a Hamas terrorist on Sunday, was remembered by his friends.
Several of Eli’s friends and comrades from the IDF, as well as his commanding officer, spoke of his warm and friendly nature and of his deep sense of mission in contributing to the Jewish state.
Eli made aliyah from South Africa in 2016 by himself, studied at a Chabad yeshiva in Kiryat Gat and then enlisted in the army.
The IDF initially refused to allow him to serve in a combat unit because of certain medical issues but Eli was insistent and was eventually allowed to join the Paratroopers Brigade in the “Arrow” company for ultra-Orthodox soldiers. He served for part of his stint along the Gaza border.
Michaya Beasley, who was Eli’s deputy company commander, described him as totally reliable, uncomplaining, and the hardest-working member of the unit, who would motivate not only his fellow soldiers but his officers, too.
“He would tell me ‘we need to do this, there are people depending on us,’ he forced people to be better,” said Beasley.
On Friday nights, when the company was on duty on the Gaza border, Eli would tell his comrades to look behind them at the Israeli communities and homes in the area and say “that’s why we’re here, that’s who we’re doing this for.”
And Beasley, like others who knew him, spoke of Eli’s passionate devotion to “the Zionist reality,” as he used to term it. “He would say we always have to be appreciative of this country and that it is a reality that has constantly to be protected, which is why he was in the army as well,” said Beasley.
“His priorities were the Land of Israel and the People of Israel, he lived by those principles and everything he did was driven by those two things.”
Eli studied in an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva, and although he later declined in religious observance he wrote a poem in Hebrew addressed to God saying he was still certain God was always at his side.
Ariel, a fellow soldier in Eli’s Paratrooper company, said that his comrade’s powerful devotion to the Zionist cause was one of his defining characteristics for which he was well known during his time in the army.
His devotion to Israel and the Jewish people extended in his attitude towards his friends, and just as he would encourage his officers he also sought to motivate his fellow soldiers.
In one story which Ariel told, Eli and other recruits were negotiating an obstacle course as part of a training exercise when Eli fell and injured his leg and he could not move.
Instead of accepting assistance from his friends who stopped to help him, he urged them to keep going on the obstacle course so they could get the best time possible.
Following his army service, Eli went to live on Kibbutz Nirim in the Gaza border region where he worked in agriculture, something he did, said Ariel, to further connect himself to the Land of Israel.
Another friend and fellow soldier, Moshe Dassa, said Eli was much loved by soldiers and commanders alike, and described him as a charismatic soldier who was “accepted as a leader” by his peers.
“He was very alive, he loved people, he would always want to sit with his friends and connect to them, his heart was always open to his friends,” said Dassa.
“It is hard to find people like Eli, he was unique, one of the righteous people of this world, it’s impossible to describe him in words.”
Eli Kay’s funeral will take place at Har Menuchot cemetery in Jerusalem at 11:00 a.m. on Monday.