Matan Gotlib was only 21 when he fell in action during one of the final days of Operation Protective Edge last summer, but his peers in New Jersey and Israel are determined to keep his memory alive.
The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ paid tribute to Gotlib at its Yom Hazikaron ceremony on April 21 at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange. A letter written by his mother was read aloud, and parts of two short films about his life were shown.
Gotlib had deep ties to the Greater MetroWest community; a resident of Rishon Letzion, he was a member of the second cohort of the Diller Teen Fellows, a 15-month Jewish teen leadership program sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation and the GMW federation that brings together GMW teens with their counterparts in Rishon Letzion — one of federation’s partnership communities in Israel — through seminars and projects on both sides of the ocean. The program is now in its eighth cohort.
“He was part of the living bridge between Greater MetroWest and Israel,” said federation community shaliah Moshe Levi.
“We were all like one family on my program,” said Shai Kartus of North Caldwell, a member of Gotlib’s Diller cohort who helped create the Matan Fund along with two other peers from the same cohort, Gila Akselrad and Jana Felberbaum. “He was very much part of my memories of Diller.”
Gotlib, a combat soldier in the IDF’s elite Maglan unit, was killed last July 30 along with two other soldiers after they entered a booby-trapped building in Gaza that collapsed. He was survived by his parents, two brothers, his girlfriend, and a sister-in-law. Levi noted that “hundreds and hundreds of people” were at his funeral.
“It was someone I knew — a Diller just like me,” said Kartus, a senior in her final semester at SUNY-Binghamton who joined a Skype session with a group of her Diller friends in Israel before the funeral. Noting that Gotlib was “always smiling,” Kartus added, “for that [Diller] year, he was like my brother.”
Gotlib’s legacy lives on because of the strong connections he formed with his peers in Greater MetroWest and in Israel. A scholarship fund was set up in his memory to provide scholarships for Rishon Letzion teens taking part in the program. The fund will also benefit the matnas, or community center, in Rishon Letzion’s Ramat Eliyahu section that mainly serves the Ethiopian community, as well as members of the IDF. The Matan Fund already received a significant gift from the Aidekman family of Madison and his Diller peers from Greater MetroWest continue their efforts to boost it up.
Even participants in later Diller cohorts, who never knew Gotlib, have lent their support to the project. Two Diller 7 members, Arielle Dror and Claire Singer, created tribute bracelets together with members of their cohort to raise money for the fund.
Beyond scholarships, Gotlib’s peers in Israel have memorialized him through their own post-army travels. Traveling abroad is a rite of passage for young Israelis finishing their army service, and Gotlib himself had looked forward to taking part in such treks. His friends created a bumper sticker with a phrase that had been written by Gotlib in a message he sent to a friend during the operation, “Peace ya man,” and took pictures of the sticker’s appearances around the world, including Africa, Europe, South America, and North America.
The day after the ceremony in Gotlib’s honor at the JCC, federation executive shaliah Amir Shacham wrote in a letter to federation staff: “This beautiful, brave, and promising young man, whom we saw growing up from a Diller fellow to an IDF elite commander, including in the videos of last night, broke everyone’s hearts.”
For information about contributing to the Matan Fund, visit jfedgmw.org/matan.