New Jersey lawmakers are alarmed that a Yeshiva student from their state has gone missing near Jerusalem, and urged the State Department to do all it can to locate the young man.
Aaron Sofer, 23, of Lakewood, N.J., was hiking in the Jerusalem Forest on Friday when he disappeared. He was in Israel to attend an ultra-Orthodox school.
Sofer is the constituent of Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who noted in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday that search teams including Shin Bet have been looking for him since 6 p.m. Friday, to no avail. Today searchers reportedly found items belonging to Sofer and told civilians to leave the area.
He was hiking with a friend, who says he lost sight of Sofer as the New Jersey man walked ahead of him down an incline. That was about noontime.
His parents have flown to Israel and are “desperate that the search for this young man should continue,” Smith wrote.
“He may have been lost or injured and unable to return without assistance. It is also possible that he may have been kidnapped,” Smith added.
The kidnapping and murder of three Yeshiva boys — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16 — from the kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the West Bank sparked the current Israeli offensive on Hamas. Naftali was a dual citizen with an American passport.
Smith stressed to Kerry that “it is in the interest of the United States Government to find out what happened to this American citizen.”
“Therefore, I urge you to identify key staff within the Department and all relevant U.S. Government officials at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv who can help Aharon’s family and assist Israeli authorities in the search.”
In a statement, Smith said he learned about the missing man over the weekend “and became very concerned for his well-being.”
In response to his letter, Kerry’s chief of staff David Wade “assured” the congressman that the department “was totally committed to assisting Aharon and his family.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement this morning that he is “deeply concerned over the disappearance.”
“My thoughts are with them and the Lakewood community during this trying time,” Menendez said. “By all accounts, Aaron is a devout and dedicated student, who traveled to Israel to enhance his knowledge and deepen his understanding of sacred Jewish texts. For yeshiva students like Aaron, there is no greater pursuit than to live and study in Jerusalem, while worshipping at Judaism’s holiest sites.”
“Ever since I was notified that Aaron went missing in Israel, my office has worked very closely with the State Department, U.S. Embassy and Consular officials in Israel, and the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.,” the senator continued. “While investigators are pursuing every lead, we keep Aaron and his family in our thoughts and prayers.”
“I hold to hope that Aharon will be located and returned to his family safely,” Smith said. “Until that day comes, he and his family are in our prayers, and I will work with the State Department to use all resources available to find him and bring him to safety.”