Left: Eyal Mevorach Twito  was killed in fighting in Gaza on Jan. 22. (Photo/Courtesy); The next day, some 100 people attended a memorial service for him at Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, which his family attended when they lived in the Bay Area. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Left: Eyal Mevorach Twito was killed in fighting in Gaza on Jan. 22. (Photo/Courtesy); The next day, some 100 people attended a memorial service for him at Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, which his family attended when they lived in the Bay Area. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

‘I had a child, and he is no more’: Oakland Hebrew Day School alum Eyal Twito, 22, killed in Gaza fighting

An Israeli paratrooper and former student at Oakland Hebrew Day School, Capt. Eyal Mevorach Twito, was killed on Monday fighting in Gaza. He was 22.

Eyal and his family had strong ties to the East Bay Jewish community. His parents, Moti and Shiri Twito, served on the OHDS faculty as shlichim (emissaries from Israel) between 2008 and 2011, and they enrolled their four children at the school. They also built ties with Modern Orthodox congregations in the area, including Beth Jacob in Oakland and Beth Israel in Berkeley.

Eyal made an impression even in the early primary grades.

OHDS head of school Tania Schweig remembers Eyal as “bright-eyed and engaged” and said his parents “were really beloved teachers here. Both are very skilled educators, both very professional, very caring, and they were able to simultaneously represent Israel and Israeli culture, and also work seamlessly with American Jewish culture. The family was such a part of the school.”

Thousands attended Eyal’s funeral in Israel on Monday evening in a military cemetery near Moshav Beit Gamliel, his family’s home. Many others mourned his passing in Oakland, the city his family once called home.

On Tuesday night, about 100 people attended a memorial service for Eyal at Beth Jacob, where the family belonged during their time in the Bay Area.

Speakers included staff from OHDS, Rabbi Gershon Albert of Beth Jacob and Rabbi Yonatan Cohen of Beth Israel, whose own nephew was killed defending his military base on Oct. 7. An audio recording of Kaddish being said at Eyal’s funeral in Israel was played at one point.

Attendees wept openly, hugging and leaning on each other for support.

Rabbi Gershon Albert speaks during a memorial service for Eyal Mevorach Twito at Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, Jan. 23, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Rabbi Gershon Albert speaks during a memorial service for Eyal Mevorach Twito at Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, Jan. 23, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

“It’s a tragedy beyond understandable proportions,” Albert told J. “People are sitting with how close this feels in a way many Jews in America have not felt. This is the kid who went on playdates at their homes, whose parents had them over for Shabbat dinner. They sense that he gave up his life to protect the Jewish people.”

Eyal’s parents served as Judaic studies and Hebrew teachers at OHDS.

“They were instantly a part of the community,” said Ethan Rubinson, an OHDS alum who works in Israel as an editor for Haaretz. “A super warm, big family. Itamar, the older brother, was one of my best friends growing up, so I was a few years older than Eyal. The whole family was super close, always together. My impression of Eyal was a huge smile, center-of-attention kid with contagious energy, and always a part of everything. You couldn’t keep him out of the circle.”

“I remember them joining the community,” recalled former classmate Adam Cohen, 22, of Oakland. “I would go to their house for Hebrew tutoring, and I’d always see Eyal and his brothers. They were very welcoming. Eyal always had a smile on his face, always wanted to have fun.”

Cohen said he and his father took Eyal to his first Major League Baseball game to watch the Oakland A’s. “He had a glow on his face the entire time,” he said. “We’d go up to the players. [Former outfielder] Coco Crisp was there, and he ended up giving me signed batting gloves. He then went to the dugout and gave Eyal a bat. Eyal’s face lit up.”

Adi Schacker, the bridge-kindergarten lead teacher at OHDS, acknowledged the family’s lasting impact on the school and the broader East Bay Modern Orthodox community.

“They were so loved,” she recalled. “They were just good-hearted people, very invested in the community.”

A community came together in shock, grief and mourning during a memorial service for Captain Eyal Mevorach Twito, 22, a soldier in the IDF who was killed in Gaza on Sunday, at Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Adam Cohen, 22, bows his head during the memorial service for his former classmate. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Schacker stayed in touch with the family after they returned to Israel in 2011. Eyal picked up the family tradition of service, volunteering as a teen with Bnei Akiva, which provides religious Zionist educational programs in North America. He also spent 2019-2020 at the Ohr Chadash Academy in Baltimore as part of the shinshinim program, which places Israeli high school graduates as emissaries in diaspora communities before they start IDF service.

Once Eyal began his military service, he moved up the ranks to become a paratrooper. After the Hamas terror attack of Oct. 7, he was mobilized for combat as a platoon commander.

“Every week I would write to Shiri,” Schacker said. “She had three boys and a girl in the military. We prayed for them every day. She sent me a video of Eyal coming home and surprising them. She sent me recent photos of him.

“They were very proud of him. Very worried. He was in Gaza right away. I called her and asked her, ‘How do you do it?’ She said, ‘I’m just here baking and hoping they’ll come.’”

Eyal was killed during an operation in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, according to the IDF. He and two other officers in the paratroopers brigade were killed when Hamas fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a building they were in, the IDF press statement said.

“We’ve been reading about these tragedies of soldiers defending the State of Israel,” said Rabbi Albert. “We understand a strong Israel is essential to a strong and secure diaspora. We’re now getting a taste of what Israelis have known for years, particularly since Oct. 7. Every Jew has a responsibility to their people, and that responsibility feels most present in moments of tragedy.”

Eyal’s father spoke at the funeral, noting that for months he had been saying Kaddish for fallen soldiers and the murdered victims of Hamas.

“I never thought I’d say Kaddish for my son,” Moti Twito said, as quoted in Yedioth Ahronoth and translated for J. “Eyal, my beloved, I have no words. You grew up to be a very special person … a person who went the extra mile to succeed. Above all, you were a leader in your heart and your soul. You’d come home [from the army] and you wouldn’t sleep a wink — you’d take the car and go visit your soldiers. … Dear Eyal, you’re a talented educator, a leader. I learned from you. Farewell, Eyal. We will remember you. I miss you, my beautiful child. Eyal, a man’s man. There’s no one like you.”

Eyal’s mother, Shiri, also spoke: “I had a child, and he is no more. Every Shabbat when you came home, you attracted everyone to you like a magnet. My child, you went into Gaza and I couldn’t breathe. I slept with one eye open. And then there was a cease-fire. You called and said, ‘Ima, don’t worry. Morale is high and we’re fine.’ You went into Gaza again, and I no longer worried. You said everything’s fine. I had a child, and he is no more. Where do I go from here?”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.