In a voice that trembles, then breaks, Chulda Sofer pleads for help finding her son, Aaron, who went missing during a hike in the Jerusalem Forest – a long way from the home he shares with nine siblings in Lakewood, New Jersey.
“I want to thank everyone for all their help, but I ask you please, please, please — I beg of you, I beg you, please — if anyone sees any whereabouts of Aaron, please call the police immediately,” Chulda says, holding up a “missing” poster that shows her 23-year-old son, smiling in his traditional Orthodox Jewish clothing and black hat.
Aaron Sofer is an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva student pursuing his religious studies in Israel. He disappeared while hiking Friday in the Jerusalem Forest. He was there with a friend, and the two became separated while navigating a steep incline, the friend told police when he reported Aaron missing six hours later.
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Sofer’s parents flew from New Jersey to Israel over the weekend to join the ongoing search, which has included hundreds of volunteers, K9s on the ground and helicopters overhead. Jerusalem Post reporter Daniel K. Eisenbud videotaped the emotional pleas from Sofer’s parents at Mount Herzl, which is the site of Israel’s national cemetery and also adjacent to the Jerusalem Forest.
Sofer's family fears he may have been kidnapped or attacked by Palestinian militants.The area where he disappeared is the same forest where Israeli extremists are accused of killing a Palestinian teenager in retaliation for the murders of three Israeli teens in June.
In the videotaped message, Aaron’s father, Moshe, thanks law enforcement agencies in both countries, including the FBI and Israeli police, for their help. “The police are working tirelessly on all fronts and all options are being strongly investigated," he says.
Back home in the Ocean County, New Jersey, town where Aaron grew up, two of his younger brothers made brief appeals today before attending a community prayer service.
“Just please bring back our brother. I’m talking on behalf of the whole family that’s in America. He’s my brother right over me. I just have one message: Please bring back my brother,” said Yaakov Sofer.
Aaron’s brother-in-law Yehuda Wicentowsky described the missing man as a very kind and nice person and asked the public to keep pressure on the governments involved in his search. The sentiment from a seasoned New York politician was not as diplomatic.
“There’s a sense that not enough was done from the very, very beginning,” said Dov Hikind, a New York City assemblyman. He called for the Israeli government to ramp up their efforts and treat the search for Sofer the same as they would for an Israeli soldier.
“Because we know what the Israeli government does when an Israeli soldier goes missing. Every resource in the world is put into it. And Aaron is a soldier," he said.
The Sofer family is offering 100,000 shekels, which is equivalent to about $28,000, for information that leads to Aaron’s whereabouts. They’ve launched a website – Search for Sofer – to help fund the search and reward.