Most friends who meet on Birthright Israel trips get to look forward to lifelong connections with their fellow participants.
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Yoav Hattab never got that chance. The son of the Chief Rabbi of Tunis, who traveled to Israel on Birthright last month, had only been back in Paris for a few weeks when he was gunned down by the terrorist who laid siege to the Hyper Cacher supermarket on Friday.
The 21-year-old, Hattab was a student when he signed up for one of the free Birthright tours to Israel offered to young Diaspora Jews around the world. Hattab grew up in La Goulette, a coastal town in the suburbs of Tunis, the Daily Mail reported, but had moved to Paris to study marketing and international trade.
But one of his Birthright companions said his ultimate aim was to move to Israel, even though the Birthright trip was his first time in the country.
Nathan Levi, 24 is originally from Haifa, but now lives in Be'er Sheva where he studies geography and environmental development at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He was one of four Israelis who joined Hattab’s French 30-member Birthright group which travelled across Israel from December 24 to January 2nd. Levi’s parents are French and he told Haaretz that he volunteered to join the group when he heard they were looking for French-speaking Israelis to accompany the tour.
“Yoav told me he was from Tunisia but living in Paris where he studied and worked, but returned frequently to Tunis to visit his family. I first met everyone in the group, including Yoav, when we went to meet them at the airport. He made a huge impression on me - he was an amazing person. He was so in love in Israel - he spend much of the trip with the Israeli flag draped over his back. His dream was to come to Israel and make aliya together with his whole family from Tunis.”
“He was so upbeat, always motivated, and he really loved Israel with all his heart. I had thought that this was his first trip to Israel, but it turns out that he was here last summer and it was his second time. He said his Birthright experience made him want even more to come here, he really loved the country and he was euphoric when he finished the trip. He said if he had any doubts about making aliya before, this trip put an end to it, it was exactly what he wanted to do.”
When the supermarket siege began, word spread quickly on the Facebook group that had formed of the Birthright trip participants that Hattab was inside the store.
“We were all stressed, we didn’t know what was going on. Then, finally, they took all of the hostages out of the supermarket when it ended - and someone saw a picture that they thought was him - we thought he was OK.”
When they learned that he was killed, “It was a huge, huge shock. Obviously, everyone on the trip was devastated. All of the members of his Birthright group went to the rally for the victims together. And I hear he is scheduled to be buried in Israel on Tuesday - of course I’m going to be there.”
“I can’t believe that someone I got to know so recently is already gone."
Levi wrote on Facebook that Hattab was “a handsome guy: successful, funny - a proud Jew who speaks fluent Hebrew, with one dream: to come with his family to Israel. For him, Birthright was only the introduction.”
“When I spoke to him for the first time and he said his name was Yoav, and I said that my brother’s name was Yoav, too, he smiled and said ‘we’re all brothers anyway.’ “
Levi said the two young men chatted on Facebook shortly after their trip ended. “I asked him if he returned safely and if he enjoyed Israel. I have never heard someone so in love with Israel he couldn’t wait to finish college so he could come to Israel already and join the army, and become an Israeli. It was an honor to meet you, dear brother. I promise I’ll never forget you.”
Gidi Mark, CEO of the Taglit-Birthright program that Hattab participated in expressed sadness at his death and that of the other victims, “My thoughts are with the families and with the Jewish community of France at these difficult times."
He added: “In the past year, Taglit-Birthright Israel took a strategic position to invest and significantly increase its actions to bring more young Jewish adults to Israel from France and will continue to do so under any circumstances.”