NJ Student Missing in Jerusalem

UPDATE: New Jersey lawmakers spoke about Aaron Sofer's disappearance at a Tuesday morning press conference.

Three days into the search for a New Jersey student missing in Israel, his family is asking for intervention from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), according to the Jerusalem Post.

Aaron Sofer, 23, disappeared Friday while hiking in the Jerusalem Forest with a friend. The two became separated while making their way along a steep incline. Sofer has not been seen since and now his family and members of his community back home in Lakewood, New Jersey, fear he may have become a victim of the Gaza-Israeli conflict.

"Obviously, the concern that he may have been abducted is there because of the volatile events," said Meir Lichtenstein, a Lakewood committeeman and former mayor.

Several hours after Sofer disappeared, the Ocean County man's friend contacted police and filed a missing person report, according to the Jerusalem Post. Since then, hundreds of volunteers have aided police and rescue organizations in searching for Sofer, but so far there has been no sign of him and no indication of what happened to him.

"A physically, mentally and emotionally healthy young man does not go missing for 72 hours," family spokesman Dov Hirth told the Jerusalem Post on Monday.

"They've sent a whole set of K-9s into the area tonight and tomorrow they will start new search patterns," said Lichtenstein who spoke late Monday with officials in Israel.

Another teen with ties to Lakewood — 16-year-old Naftaly Frenkel — was kidnapped in the West Bank and killed this summer, along with two other Israeli teens. Frenkel's aunt lives in Lakewood, a community of about 100,000. The growing population of Orthodox Jews came together to support Frenkel's family.

The kidnapping and murders of the three teens was one of the key factors leading to the summer conflict.

Last month, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, was kidnapped and killed in an alleged revenge attack. Abu Khdeir was beaten and burned to death in the same forest where Sofer is missing. Spokesman Dov Hirth said the family wants Israeli forces involved in the search for Sofer because of the Abu Khdeir killing and because of increased tension between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I don't know if they have any physical evidence that he [Sofer] was kidnapped," Lichtenstein said, explaining that the Jerusalem forest is bordered by both Jewish and Arab communities. "Three days is a pretty long time to be searching a relatively small area."

Sofer's family is in Israel now. Lakewood's mayor, Menashe P. Miller will be joined by other lawmakers on Tuesday at 10 a.m. for a news conference at Lakewood's Town Hall. They'll brief the community on the latest efforts by the U.S. and Israel to find Sofer.

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