‘We can never forget how lucky we are’
IDF Maj. Aryeh Ziering, 27, fell fighting Hamas terrorists in southern Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. Photo: Courtesy

‘Our sons were strong people. Their commitment to this country made them rush down south, not knowing what was happening, to protect us,’ says Debbie Ziering, the mother of IDF Maj. Aryeh Ziering, who was killed by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.

By Amelie Botbol
May 12, 2024

“The story of Aryeh isn’t about what he did. It isn’t one with a lot of details or heavy fighting because unfortunately, he was killed early on,” his mother Debbie Ziering told JNS on Thursday.

“I always think to myself how disappointed he would have been. He would have wanted to have done so much more. But he was driven by his values. He felt, like everyone who went out that morning of Oct. 7, that he had to repel this attack,” she added.

That fateful day, Maj. Aryeh Ziering, a commander in the Israel Defense Forces’ Oketz K-9 unit, started receiving calls alerting him that Hamas terrorists were invading southern Israel. 

“When they called him, the first thing Aryeh said was, ‘Don’t worry, I’m coming. He picked up another soldier with a dog and they headed south,” Debbie recalled. 

Aryeh first drove to Sderot, where he met up with a platoon commander from the Paratroopers Brigade. They continued to Kibbutz Zikim near the Gaza border and entered the Yiftah base, which Hamas had already assaulted. 

“They ran into the base and saw bodies at the front gate and inside,” Ziering said. 

The soldiers received reports that terrorists had commandeered a tank and headed out. As they were about to let their dog loose, a terrorist who was hiding in the woods opened fire, wounding five of them. Aryeh was shot in the head and died en route to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. 

“Our sons were strong people. Their commitment to this country made them rush down south, not knowing what was happening, to protect us. For such selfless, amazing people, I have to be strong,” she added. 

IDF Maj. Aryeh Ziering. Photo: Courtesy 

Originally from Maine, Debbie moved to Israel with her husband, Mark, in 1995. The pair first lived in Jerusalem for seven years before settling in the central Israel city of Ra’anana. Their four children, including Aryeh, their eldest, were born in Israel. Son Yonatan, 23, and daughter Tal, 21, are currently serving in the IDF. 

“I have a very Zionist family who really feel that they should be doing whatever they can for the country. It did not change when Aryeh was killed,” she said. 

Israel will usher in Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism (Yom Hazikaron) with a one-minute siren at 8 p.m. on Sunday, followed by a state ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Since last Memorial Day (April 25, 2023), 1,594 Israeli soldiers and civilians have died. This includes 760 Israel Defense Forces soldiers (61 of whom succumbed to their wounds from previous years) and 834 civilians, 822 of whom were killed on or after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, according to numbers released by the Israeli Defense Ministry on Thursday.

Five soldiers were killed in the Gaza Strip over the weekend.

Ziering said she was not quite sure how to prepare for the day of mourning and remembrance.

“We are ready, I guess. We just experience things as they happen. I don’t know what to expect or how to feel,” she said. 

“It’s sad all the time. I don’t know that particularly Yom Hazikaron will be sadder for me then it’s been before,” she added. 

Aryeh was buried on Oct. 9, while most soldiers in his unit were still mobilized. He commanded close to 150 soldiers, many of whom were unable to attend his funeral and could not pay their respects.

“It’s been seven months since we lost Aryeh. Coming towards Yom Hazikaron, we are getting a lot more phone calls. People are starting to check in on us,” said Ziering. 

Aryeh Ziering displays an Israeli flag as he crosses the finish line of a marathon in San Francisco, two years before his death in southern Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. Photo: Courtesy

“A lot of the feelings from the beginning are coming back. It almost feels to me that after the ceremony on Monday, when people will be coming to the house, it will be like another day of Shiva [the seven-day mandatory Jewish mourning period],” she added. 

On Sunday night, the Zierings will be attending the official ceremony in Ra’anana with other bereaved families. In the morning, they will be visiting the city’s military cemetery, where Aryeh was laid to rest. 

“We asked ourselves whether or not we should bury him at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Another bereaved mother advised me to keep him close to our home. She was right. We go and we visit. On Fridays, we light a candle at his grave,” she said. 

Many Israeli families cannot do the same.

Speaking of the families of hostages who died in Hamas captivity and whose bodies are still held in Gaza, Ziering said she thinks about them all the time. 

“It’s terribly painful and whenever we talk about hostages and bodies in Gaza, we all just have to think of it as if it were our child and reach out to them and hug them,” she said. 

“Someone who hasn’t gone through what I went through cannot know what I’m feeling, but we can be there for them and support them. It’s a terrible tragedy and I hope that they will get their loved ones back soon, I really do,” she added. 

Right after Aryeh died, Ziering and her husband decided to visit wounded soldiers from his unit.

“One of them called me and said to me that he was being released the following week. He said his sister had a baby and she named her Arielle in memory of Aryeh. It’s the third baby that’s been named after my son since Oct. 7,” Ziering told JNS. 

“We are taking our time to figure out what we will be doing in his memory. We are working on a lookout somewhere where people can come and sit in a beautiful place. I don’t want to rush things. I want to give it some thought,” she added. 

In the interim, Ziering visits schools to tell her son’s story and keep his memory alive.

Despite her hardships, Ziering said nothing should overshadow the fact that we are living in miraculous times. 

“We are living in a time where we are sovereign in the State of Israel. It’s happened three times in history. The first time was when King David reigned over the Land of Israel. The second was in the Hasmonean dynasty and finally in 1948,” she said.

“We can never forget how lucky we are. We paid a huge price. We personally paid a huge price, but I don’t think that my son would have done anything differently. Given what we know, I still think he would have gone. For sure, there is no question,” she added. 

“We have to appreciate that we are living in a time in which we are sovereign in the Land of Israel and we are lucky to be here,” she concluded.

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