JERUSALEM—Thousands of mourners from around Israel solemnly gathered under overcast skies at the Har Hamenuchot cemetery to join with the family and friends of Eliyahu David Kay, 25, who was murdered on Sunday by a Hamas terrorist in Jerusalem’s Old City.

One of Kay’s brothers, Kasriel Kay, told the gathering that he would not eulogize his brother, as befitting their Chabad-Lubavitch tradition. Instead, he urged the crowd of mourners to change their lives for the better in his brother’s memory.

“There’s no reason to be sad for him. … He will be at peace,” said Kasriel Kay. “Eli would have [chosen] no other way [to die], either this or in the middle of the war.”

“My great-grandfather Eliyahu is waiting for him [in heaven], King David is waiting for him, and they’ll take care of him,” he continued, invoking his brother’s namesakes. “Eli would have wanted every single person to give … to the best of their ability, in whatever way works for them, whatever they can for Israel.”

Eliyahu David Kay arrived in Israel in 2016 to study at the Chabad-Lubavitch yeshivah in Kiryat Gat. After completing his studies, he served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces and went on to become a sergeant before working on an agricultural kibbutz near the Gaza border, and then as a tour guide for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. His family had recently joined him in Israel, emigrating from South Africa.

According to eyewitnesses, Kay was on his way to the Western Wall, where he worked as a tour guide, carrying tefillin and a volume of Likkutei Sichot, anthologies of teachings by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, when he was shot and killed by a Hamas terrorist, who wounded four others before being killed by Israeli security forces. The wounded are recovering from their injuries.

Kay during his service in the IDF.
Kay during his service in the IDF.

As word of Kay’s passing began to spread following the shooting, there was an immediate outpouring of memories from the many friends Kaye had made throughout his life—from South Africa, to Australia, to Israel. Menachem Deutsch, a former classmate from Johannesburg, described Kay as a sensitive, sincere and deep person. “He didn’t just live through the stages of life. He went all the way with what he believed. He threw himself into yeshivah, and took the learning and growth seriously,” he told

“When he felt the obligation to serve and protect our homeland, he signed up to be a combat soldier, ready to give his life for the Jewish people. He lived his life with great meaning, forming powerful, personal connections at every stage.”

Zalmen Zajac, a study partner of Kay’s in Kiryat Gat, recalled the young man’s “excellent middot [character traits]” and studiousness. “He really wanted to do what’s right. His sincerity was legendary, and he loved Chassidut.”

Kay grew up in Johannesburg’s tight-knit Chabad community. After graduating from Torah Academy, he continued his studies at the Rabbinical College of Australia and New Zealand in Melbourne for a year, before moving on to Israel. He planned to marry in a few months.

Kay assists a soldier with tefillin.
Kay assists a soldier with tefillin.

‘He Treated People with Love and Respect’

Jen Schiff, who was to be engaged to Kaye, spoke with reporters on Sunday night about the young man’s character:

“It is very shocking and deeply tragic news today,” said Schiff. “I just felt it was important to share how much Eli loved this country, and how he came here by himself and fought for this country. He had a bunch of injuries in the army, and yet continued to go through all of the training and have his own soldiers.”

“He is the strongest person I’ve ever known, emotionally and physically. And he’s the smartest man I’ve ever met; caring and considerate and gentle and firm, and very loving and accepting, no matter what their background, no matter what they say or do. He always treated people with love and respect.”

“I know that when this happened, he didn’t feel alone,” Schiff continued, “and that he knew that being in this country, and doing what he did and who he was, it was giving what he had to the people around him and to the people of Israel.”

The South African Board of Jewish Deputies said it was “devastated” by the news of Kay’s death. “The South African Jewish community is reeling from shock,” the statement said.

Mourners came from around Israel to bid farewell to a sensitive and corageous soul. .(Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Mourners came from around Israel to bid farewell to a sensitive and corageous soul. .(Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The attack, which took place at the Chain Gate, was the second in a week to take place in the Old City. On Wednesday, two border police officers were lightly wounded in a stabbing attack near the Ateret Cohanim yeshivah.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog of Israel called on the international community to recognize Hamas as a terror organization after the fatal shooting attack in Jerusalem, committed by a member of the Palestinian group’s political wing.

South Africa Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein noted that “the Kay family have for generations been pillars of the South African Jewish community—exemplars of kindness, contribution and faith—and we are heartbroken at their loss.”

“They are a family renowned and beloved for making this world a better place through their good deeds, and Eli lived with the same spirit and values,“ Goldstein continued. “Eli left this world al kiddush Hashem [in sanctification of G‑d’s name], on his way to daven [pray] at the Kotel, where he worked as a tour guide. He was murdered for only one reason: being a Jew.”

Eliyahu David Kay is survived by his parents, Avi and Devorah Kay; siblings Kasriel, Chanan and Na’ama; and by his grandparents, Jessie and Cliffie Kay, and Rabbi Shlomo and Lynndy Levin.

(Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
(Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)