Haredi boy whose mother was killed in terror attack is now IDF commander of same area

Major Shimon Abraham's mother was murdered in a terror attack in Emmanuel during the second intifada; since then he left the ultra-Orthodox world, fought against the IDF to enlist, and advanced in rank to his current position
Yoav Zitun|
Maj. Shimon Abraham's mother and 10 other Israelis were killed in a horrific terror attack in December 2001 during the second intifada, 22 years ago. Today he has returned to defend the same area in the West Bank where the terror attack took place in his new position as deputy commander of the IDF's new co-ed Panther battalion.
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Abraham, who lived an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle in the West Bank settlement of Emmanuel, is no longer religious and is serving as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, a feat most ultra-Orthodox boys do not seek. In his new role, Abraham commands the Qalqilya area in the West Bank which includes settlements including Emmanuel.
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רס"ן שמעון אברהם
רס"ן שמעון אברהם
Major Shimon Abraham
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson Unit, family album)
The attack took place on the fourth night of Hannukah of 2001. Three terrorists ambushed a bus arriving from Bnei Brak, setting off a roadside bomb and then spraying the bus carrying dozens of passengers with bullets. Esther Abraham was 42 when she was killed, and her 19-year-old daughter miraculously was left unscathed.
"One of the men on the bus pulled my sister out to save her and when she ran to the settlement she was distraught and fainted and still tried to return to the scene to save our mother. Unfortunately, security forces arrived late and she was already dead," Abraham said.
On the day of the attack, the combat officer was 11 years old. He had grown up with four brothers and sisters in an ultra-Orthodox household in Rehovot until a rabbi who mentored the family instructed them to move to Emmanuel to grow closer to God. Five days later, Abraham's mother was murdered.
"My mother and sister went to Bnei Brak that morning to buy clothes for a family wedding. They left Bnei Brak at around 4 p.m. so we expected them to be home by 18:30. Meanwhile, we cleaned the house as my mother asked us that morning and we planned to attend a Hanukkah party that evening, but they never came nor did they answer their phone," he recalled.
"At first we thought they didn't have any cell service but after a few minutes we heard a loud knock on the door. It was my cousin who was in the settlement's first responders unit with a vest and a gun. He went to speak with my dad. When I asked my dad what happened he said I should read Psalms with a sunken face. I understood that something bad happened, especially after so many people came, although nobody told us that mom died. My 5-year-old brother was tucked in and woke up at night screaming 'where's mom?' In that moment I understood that this was my turning point in life. I told myself and my sister, 'when I'm older, I'll take a gun and defend my country,'" said Abraham.
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רס"ן שמעון אברהם
רס"ן שמעון אברהם
Major Shimon Abraham said he would defend the country
(Photo: Shaul Golan)

"I sent emails for 18 months and they did not want me to enlist"

Following the trauma, the family returned to Rehovot and Abraham continued to study in an ultra-Orthodox school. However, he never let go of his dream to enlist in the IDF.
"When I began yeshiva at 17, I checked opportunities to study and serve in the IDF. When my rabbi heard of this, he pressured me to stay in school and not join the IDF and that's what I did for two years without letting go of my promise to join the IDF. I couldn't go on with my life and see that I have nothing to do with what's going on out there, with defending the country, especially after what happened to me. I was not doing well in the yeshiva. I had chest pains, sweaty panic attacks and difficulty breathing. These are things that are less understood or known in the ultra-Orthodox world. I prayed to God I would recover from this," said Abraham.
"We have amazing female fighters. Female combat soldiers that I trust as much as combat officers.
Abraham shared his challenges with the rabbi and the latter found him an answer in the form of an engagement.
"After five dates, I was engaged, but just before the wedding I was hospitalized to take out my appendix. The doctor in the hospital told me it might be related to mental pressure from a young age and I understood this as a sign. I promised myself that as soon as I leave the hospital, I will only do what I believe in. I called off the wedding, knowing the consequences on my family's and my fiancé's reputation. I was in such a big self-conflict, but I understood I was hurting myself and the people around me," he said.
At that point, when he was 23 years old, Abraham left his ultra-Orthodox life and entered a new and foreign world. He was quick to make up his required schoolwork, but the IDF did not want to enlist him.
"Although I asked to enlist and sent emails every morning for 18 months, they didn't want to enlist me due to my older age, the fact that my family was victims of terror, and my stats were low. Finally, my father agreed to sign a waiver. After a year in an office job, I was accepted into the paratrooper commando unit after being summoned to the pilots course and General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) screening," said Abraham.
From the moment he was accepted into the paratrooper commando unit, Abraham was on a fast track for greatness. Despite his older age, he was allowed to attend the IDF Officer Course and later the Platoon Commander Course. "At 25, I was a combat soldier and the same age as my platoon commander, but he believed in me and helped me advance. My family also supported me and understood I remained the same," said Abraham.
For the past two years with his military service, Abraham is completing his bachelors degree in the Horizon program for promising IDF officers. During his studies, he told his inspirational story to religious and ultra-Orthodox teens in 70 primary and high schools.

'I explain to my soldiers that my mother was killed here'

Abraham's new position is as deputy battalion commander of the new Panther co-ed unit. In fact, Abraham is among its founders and half of the unit consists of female border-infantry soldiers. In this sense, this battalion is similar to the other four co-ed battalions.
Unlike the other units, the Panther battalion is permanently stationed in the most incendiary area of all, the northern West Bank between Qalqilya and Salfit. During the unit's first two months, the battalion has thwarted countless Palestinian infiltrations through ambushes and anti-terror patrols.
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רס"ן שמעון אברהם
רס"ן שמעון אברהם
Major Shimon Abraham
(Photo: Shaul Golan)
"We have amazing female fighters. Female combat soldiers that I trust as much as combat officers. One of the female soldiers is deputy platoon commander who always responds well to complicated situations and does well on the field. I explain to my soldiers that my mom was killed in a terror attack in this area, in a scenario that repeatedly happens, explosives and gunshots on the road. Everyone here is on high alert to prove themselves and our new unit," said Abraham.
The IDF is allocating resources for this new battalion, including drones and specialized small vehicles for operational driving. However, Abrahams believes that most qualitative weapon is people.
"We have people from everywhere that know how to respect one another even if there are tense situations. We created a unit which has boys, girls, religious and secular, Druze and Jews and everyone brings his own experience to the table despite what happens in the country.
Abraham said the current debate over enlisting haredi youth has to change. "Regarding enlisting Ultra-Orthodox youth, nothing will succeed if they do it forcefully. However, the ultra-Orthodox youth needs to know what happens on the outside. They already volunteer in Magen David Adom so why not institutionalize their volunteer service? The schism in Israel is growing and it's going to get worse. The history of the Jewish people cannot repeat itself. This worries me as a person from both worlds and it's not a fight about who is right in my opinion. The most important thing for an ultra-Orthodox kid is learning basic subjects such as math, English, science," he said.
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רס"ן שמעון אברהם
רס"ן שמעון אברהם
Abraham when he was an ultra-Orthodox youth
(Photo: Family album)
Abraham's younger brother has already enlisted and is now a commissioned officer as an engineer. His brother is a father of two as he serves the country.
"I tell my family like I tell my soldiers 'be true to your dreams, there is no right or wrong,'" said Abraham.
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