Lakewood yeshiva student Aharon Sofer was buried Aug. 29 in Beth Shemesh, Israel, some 14 miles from where his body was found after a six-day search in the Beit Zayit forest in Jerusalem.
Sofer, who had been studying in Israel for the past year, went missing on Aug. 22 while hiking with a friend.
His disappearance triggered a massive search involving Israel’s national police, helicopters, dogs, and volunteer first responders from United Hatzalah and ZAKA. Because Sofer was an American citizen, FBI agents also joined the search party.
His body was discovered by a Hatzalah member. DNA testing confirmed his identity. However, given the tensions of the summer-long Gaza war, and the kidnapping and murder of three yeshiva students that preceded it, investigators won’t rule out any possibility.
The search for Sofer, which some say was underreported in Israel itself, galvanized Lakewood and local officials there. Within hours of Sofer’s disappearance, his parents, Chulda and Moshe Sofer, flew to Israel with several of Aharon’s nine siblings to assist in the hunt.
They offered a $30,000 reward for information as to his whereabouts.
Within hours after discovery of his body, expressions of support and sympathy poured in from many areas of the Jewish community and beyond.
“The tragic loss of this bright, devout, young New Jerseyan weighs heavily upon us all, but on no one more than his family and friends in Lakewood,” said a statement by Sen. Cory Booker. (D-NJ)
“Our worst nightmare has come true,” said a statement by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). “There are no adequate words to convey my personal condolences to the Sofer family and to the people of Lakewood for this terrible loss.”
In an email to NJ Jewish News, Rep. Chris Smith (R-Dist. 4) who represents Lakewood and urged U.S. officials to help in the search, wrote “This is an extremely difficult time for his family and friends, and they are in our prayers. I would also like to thank the Israeli government for its assistance in the search.”
On a website established by the Chesed of Lakewood, which went online after Sofer’s disappearance, a new entry was posted shortly after the student’s body was found.
“We are sorry to inform you of [his] passing,” said the posting. “We are still accepting donations to cover the exorbitant cost of the rescue operation and funeral expenses. If there are any excess funds they will be distributed under rabbinical guidance.”