Memorial Day / The fallen striker
Israel's retaliation against Egypt in late October 1955 for a previous attack on an IDF position - called Operation Egged - became known for its deep penetration 20 kilometers into Egyptian territory as well as its commander, Ariel Sharon.
Save for the families and friends of the two Israeli soldiers who fell in that raid, few know that one of them was a promising young soccer player.
Yaakov Mizrahi, who suffered mortal wounds during the fight and was awarded posthumously the Medal of Valor, was also an outstanding striker for Hapoel Jerusalem, the central figure on a team that saw a great future in him.
"He played two years on the club's first team despite his young age," recalls Haim Baram, an acquaintence of Mizrahi.
"He was a promising player, a very good player, and they were building on him. He played on attack and was a classic center striker of that period, alongside Baruch Benvenisti (the brother of former great Mordechai Benvenisti)," says Baram.
"I remember when the news arrived that he was killed, and it was a great blow. I knew him personally and beyond the fact that he was an outstanding striker, he was an unusually nice guy."
Mizrahi, the son of Ben Zion and Flora, was born on the eve of Tisha B'Av in July 1937. He was a fifth-generation resident of the Old City in Jerusalem.
He dropped out of school to help support his family, according to his official IDF biography. Despite being a well-known soccer player in the city admired by thousands of children, he remained modest, friendly and shy.
He was in great physical shape and was instilled with a love for the country, his family says, which drove him to volunteer for the paratroopers after being drafted at the age of 17.
Meir Gabbay, a veteran sports reporter from Jerusalem and a distant relative of Mizrahi's says that the boy had fair hair, was loved by everyone and was a striker with potential.
"He was a very talented player," he recalls. "They thought he would go very far, but this operation took his life."
The raid - also known as Kuntilla for the Egyptian base the IDF attacked - commenced October 28, two days after an Israeli soldier had been killed in an Egyptian raid at Be'erotayim. A large force from the 890th paratrooper battalion under Sharon's command penetrated Egyptian terrority, continuing on foot after they hit a point where it was no longer possible to use vehicles.
The force killed 12 Egyptians and took 30 prisoners while suffering the losses of Private Mizrahi and Amnon Abukai, who was awarded a medal of courage.
Mizrahi, the first to receive the highest medal - now known as the Medal of Valor - since the end of the War of Independence, demonstrated exceptional courage. Toward the end of the battle he discerned a platoon of enemy soldiers and was mortally wounded while attacking them. Sharon, according to several accounts, carried him back 15 kilometers to the vehicles.
However, the 18-year-old died of his wounds later that day.
Years later, when Sharon was prime minister, he visited Avi Mizrahi, Yaakov's brother, who spent years as an Egged bus driver and died last year. Sharon told Avi Mizrahi about his brother's heroics during the visit.
The battle at Kuntilla went down in the annals of the paratroopers as a successful mission and a good example of fighting spirit, determination and devotion to mission.
"I remember his mother's heart telling her something bad would happen because one of the Shabbat candles went out earlier than it should, and she said it was a bad sign," recalls Meir Gabbay about the evening of October 28, a Friday night. "And then they informed us that he was killed."