‘The loss of our baby, our kind, funny brother, leaves an unfathomable gap’

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‘The loss of our baby, our kind, funny brother, leaves an unfathomable gap’

Our dear Jewish News colleague Yael Schlagman is mourning her brother, Benjamin Needham, who was killed in Gaza on Sunday. In the hours after his funeral she reflected on her family's unbearable loss

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

The heartbroken elder sisters and brothers of the 19-year-old IDF soldier Benjamin Needham, who died fighting in the north of Gaza, have paid loving tributes to their “baby brother”, writes Jenni Frazer.

Yael Schlagman, who works for Jewish News, her sister Orli Ferris and brother Daniel Needham (the three eldest) recalled their brother Benjamin, the youngest of six. He was born in Edgware and attended the Nancy Reuben Primary School in Hendon (where Yael has sent her own children). Daniel also lives in London.

When Benjamin was eight, his parents, Faye and Amnon, left the UK and made their home in Zichron Ya’akov, in the north of Israel.

“Benji continued school in Zichron,” Yael said. “He was very sporty – he was number two in the whole country for his age group in mixed martial arts, or MMA.” The sisters said his ability was of a very high standard since the athlete who was the Israeli number one had turned professional.

Many of Benjamin Needham’s friends had visited the mourning family after his funeral in Zikhron Ya’akov.

Yael said: “Every day we have learned more about him – but particularly about his enthusiasm as a ‘party guy’. We knew he had an outgoing character, we hardly saw him when he wasn’t smiling the whole time. But his friends talked of him as the one who was always first at the party, the one who made everyone feel he was their best friend.”

Benjamin was ‘very outgoing and gregarious — and he knew that he was very loved’

Just two weeks before his death, on 3 December, Benjamin had celebrated his birthday and had completed his advanced basic training in a combat engineering unit in the IDF. “He was very focused on the army, he desperately wanted to go and protect the country,” his sisters said. “He was a hero.”

The family is observant and Benji had begun, he told his father, to put on tefillin in company with a fellow soldier who was also studying at yeshiva.

All the family were “very close”, said Yael, and a highlight of their summer had been when all six siblings gathered to mark their father’s 70th birthday.

In their eulogy at the funeral, the sisters recalled: “We just had the perfect summer
with you — precious memories that will now need to last a lifetime. How lucky we were that you could surprise Dad, and celebrate his birthday with us. You trav–elled for hours to make it happen, and then went in the early hours to Zichron, just to get underwear to your comrade, because you felt you owed him for letting you take his place [in order] to come and see us.”

There were constant messages between the siblings — one other brother is also in the army. Yael said: “I was messaging him all the time. Before Shabbat he told us he was ‘going in’ and that he was fine and not to worry.”

She wrote back “I love you so much,” and saw that he had read the message.

The siblings described Benji as “very outgoing and gregarious – and he knew that he was very loved”. The loss of “our baby, our joker, our warm-hearted, kind, funny, loving brother, son, uncle, grandson, hero” would leave a huge and unfillable gap.

His was the second death of a British soldier. Nathanel Young was killed on 7 October.

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