Messianic Jews around the country are mourning after one of their young soldiers was killed in action last week.
First Sergeant Shai Kushnir, who grew up in a youth group at a Messianic congregation in the Haifa area, was killed during operations along the Gaza border.
Over ten thousand came to pay their respects to Shai and the family, including two mayors from the Greater Haifa area, IDF generals and commanders from the Armored Brigade, as well as Messianic friends and congregational leaders. Many wept openly as the 20-year-old fallen soldier was laid to rest in a full military ceremony at the IDF cemetery in Kiryat Ata, just outside Haifa.
Barely holding back his tears, the commanding officer of Shai's unit addressed the mourners:
"Shai fought bravely in order to defend the citizens of Israel. Few are willing to put others before themselves, but Shai was motivated by a higher principle of love, generosity and sacrifice for others. Living by these principles did not just happen on the spur of the moment, rather they are the result of the upbringing that Shai received from parents and family.
"Shai, your spirit and willingness to fight has left a profound impression on us. Your desire to help and to do whatever you could to save a life gave us courage during the fighting over the past few weeks. Just moments before we went into battle you said, 'You can depend on me. I will protect you.'
"You were more than a friend, Shai, you were like a brother to us. Your memory will be with us always and will continue to give us the strength to carry on. We are paying the ultimate price in order to defend our people, the price of our dearest sons and daughters."
According to IDF regulations, as an only son, Shai was not permitted to serve in a combat unit. "But Shai was absolutely adamant," said his father, Michael. "He just kept on insisting that he wanted to serve in a combat unit."
When it became clear that Shai would have it no other way, he was eventually allowed to serve in the Barak (Lightning) Division of an Armored Brigade, the same unit in which his father served.
Shai was a medic in a reconnaissance platoon that suffered a direct hit by Hamas mortars. Four other soldiers died in the attack along with Shai.
The day before he was killed, Shai's father sent a message to his son:
"Sheiky, I miss you very very much. Not a minute goes by that I do not think of you, day and night. I try to imagine how you and your friends are facing this difficult situation. How are you responding to all this dangerous? You and all the other youth have an extremely difficult task to shield our tiny country. With your very lives you are our Protective Edge. I believe that you and your friends are strong, determined and full of motivation to complete the difficult task that you have. You are the best this country has to offer. We trust you. Daddy loves and misses you."
The funeral was concluded with a prayer by the IDF Rabbi:
"To First Sergeant Shai, family and friends who have gathered here to honor you, I ask you for forgiveness. We called upon you to serve our country and you have given your life for us. May you go in peace and may you have eternal rest. May you now stand before the Judge all of flesh and have Shalom. And may there be Shalom on Israel, now and forever."