A fallen Israeli soldier saved over one hundred soldiers and civilians near Gaza after Hamas terrorists attacked his base.
First Lieutenant Yannai Kaminka, 20, from Tzur Hadassah, Israel, was killed in battle defending the Zikim base against the first wave of Hamas terrorists at approximately 8:13 a.m. on Saturday, October 7.
The Israel-Hamas war has had a devastating impact on Israeli citizens. Elana Kaminka, Yannai’s mother, told Fox News Digital that most families have at least one person who has been called up from reserve duty. Older adults and teenagers who’ve already completed their compulsory service have also been asked back to service.
“There’s nobody in Israel who doesn’t know somebody who was killed on October 7,” Elana said.
Yannai, Elana’s oldest child, would have been 20 years old on October 30. She and her husband Eyal have three other kids, Liam, Timna and Nevo. Both Elana and Yannai are dual American and Israeli citizens.
“He wasn’t very old, but he had maturity in a deep, very deep personal ethics that I think is unusual for someone his age,” Elana said of Yannai. “He really believed in seeing the humanity in each and every person that he met.”
Yannai was not a very chatty son. He instead preferred to be on the sidelines observing and conversing with people one-on-one. The family joked that he had x-ray vision because Yannai, from a young age, was constantly analyzing, trying to figure out who a person was, understand their pain and find ways to connect personally.
In high school, Yannai worked as a scout leader. Many of his former scouts told stories of Yannai. During bus trips, all the other counselors would sit up front while the kids sat in the back.
“He’d just come and sit down next to one of the kids in his group and just have a conversation with them. And one of the kids said to me that’s the first time that an adult’s talked to me like that,” Elana said.
Yannai would later do a year of civilian service before the Army. His ability to connect with strangers and loose acquaintances extended to his work with at-risk youth attempting to navigate difficult neighborhoods. Kids recalled that Yannai would spend hours talking to the kids but never talked about himself.
He preserved that skill during his career in the Army.
“The Army isn’t the type of framework that encourages like these deep interpersonal connections. It’s very rigid and very harsh,” Elans said. “He didn’t accept that. He told us when he was a basic trainee, he said, the commanders I respect are the ones who don’t le flaunt their authority in their ranks but who really see you and care about you.”
Though Yannai eventually moved on to platoon commander, second lieutenant and first lieutenant, he often spent substantial time asking soldiers about their friends, family and what they wanted to accomplish. Sometimes, he even made visits to the homes of his trainees.
“I think he saw himself in more of a parental role,” Elana surmised. “He was a good soldier, and he did his job as well. But he didn’t end it that way. He really looked at the personal side of and the human side who he worked with.”
Yannai served on the Zikim base in the north area of the Gaza Strip on October 7. That weekend, the guard posts were mainly manned by trainees who had been drafted in the middle of August. The base also had very little manpower because most people had gone home for the holiday. Some sergeants helped with the posts as per requirements.
“At 6:30 in the morning, the base came under heavy artillery fire. They said afterward they found something like 35 missile heads within the base’s perimeter. So heavy, heavy artillery fire,” Elana said.
According to protocol, everyone inside the base, including the trainees and staff, ran to the bomb shelters. There was also a religious family who was inside that had been visiting.
Outside, civilians were on the beach throwing a party. Some were killed immediately when Hamas attacked, while others ran from the coastline into the base perimeter.
Once inside the shelter, the staff sergeants realized the trainees could not handle the situation and took over their posts.
“So, all the officers and sergeants put themselves on the front line. It wasn’t a situation where the officers were sitting in the comfy room and putting the grunts at risk. It was the opposite. They protected their soldiers,” Elana said.
The commanders soon find themselves under heavy fire from three Hamas cells around the perimeter. The team communicated using WhatsApp, firing off messages to call for medics and report grenades. One of the sergeants was then hit. She was seriously injured and remains in critical condition in the hospital. Another sergeant then filled the position before getting injured.
“Yannai left his post and ran there to give them the backup. He was there, him another officer and two sergeants, and they came under heavy attack by a Hamas cell,” Elana said. “They fought for quite a long time. They started sending out, you know, calls again, ‘ammo, ammo.’ They needed more ammo. Then, the last message was at 8:13 a.m. One of them wrote, ‘I’m injured.’ And then the connection cut off.”
All four of them were killed. In total, three officers (Adir Abudi, Or Mozes, and Adar Ben Simon), two sergeants (Eden Levy and Omri Niv Fierstein) and one trainee (Neria Nagri) were also killed in the attack.
Recollections from the IDF suggest that the team took out one to three Hamas terrorists before getting hit with an explosive.
One of the surviving terrorists ran inside the base and was confronted by the trainees. The Hamas agent killed one trainee before another grabbed him. The trainee was shot in the arm in the scuffle, while another was able to neutralize the terrorist.
The actions of Yannai and his comrades saved the lives of over 90 trainees and approximately 30 other soldiers and civilians inside of Zikim. As a result of their actions, Kibbutz Zikim, which is adjacent to the base, was able to prepare. There were no casualties in the kibbutz.
“As a parent, I would have put myself in front of danger to save his life. I think that was his perception, that his trainees meant so much to him, and he took so much responsibility for them,” Elana said. “He put himself in the line of danger to keep them protected, and he succeeded.”
The family would later go to the hospital to look for Yannai, where the IDF informed them that he had been killed. While the pain lingers heavily, Elana said the news was somewhat of a “mercy,” noting that many families have been left without answers and uncertainty about what happened to their loved ones.
Yannai was a talented musician. He would often compose and play music on the piano. Elana said he still had much to express and give to the world.
“We still love him so deeply,” Elana added. “It’s like a car with a wheel missing. You know, there’s a part that’s not there, and you can’t–nothing can fix that.”
Following his death, Elana learned a new story about Yannai.
Elana’s husband, Eyal, is a poet whose work was often given a critical eye by Yannai.
“Sometimes he’d say, that one sucked. That wasn’t good. And, you know, I think that was also proof of how we had an open relationship. Like he felt comfortable to say that, you know, it was okay. Like he could be honest,” Elana recalled.
But there was one poem that Yannai found special.
After Yannai’s passing, the family learned that he read the poem to civilians and those in his basic training several times. He had also painted the poem’s last line on the wall in his platoon and etched the words into dog tag covers for his trainees.
“Only at night do you see the stars,” it read.
For more Culture, Media, Education, Opinion and channel coverage, visit foxnews.com/media