On Tuesday, August 26, the family of a New Jersey yeshiva student missing in Israel appealed to the U.S. and Israeli governments to use all the resources available to find their son amid fears he may have been abducted, according to a NBC’s channel 10 in Philadelphia.
Aaron Sofer, 23, a resident of Lakewood, NJ who was studying at the Rabbi Tzvi Kaplan yeshiva in Jerusalem, went missing during a hike on Friday. He was last seen in the Beit Zayit area of the Jerusalem Forest with a friend when they reportedly became separated while navigating a steep incline. Police and K9 dogs have found personal belongings believed to be of Sofer and have evacuated the scene of the forest for civilians, according to the JP Updates web site.
ZAKA and United Hatzalah joined the manhunt along with Israeli police and the Shin Bet.
“As you are aware, Aaron has been missing for four days and there is great concern for his safety. The search of the Jerusalem forest continues and all possibilities, including abduction, are being considered,” the Sofer family said in a statement.
NBC reported that the statement was read on Tuesday morning during a news conference in Sofer’s hometown of Lakewood, New Jersey, where politicians, members of the Orthodox Jewish community and some of Sofer’s siblings gathered to call for more help.
New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D) who represents the largest population of Orthodox Jews in the United States said, “There’s a sense that not enough was done from the very, very beginning and not enough attention was paid to the disappearance of Aaron.”
Hikind called on Israelis to raise the level of intensity in their search. “So what I want to say to the Israeli government, ‘Treat Aaron as if he was an Israeli soldier missing.’ 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.
Hikind said the concern for safety extends beyond Sofer. "As we speak, thousands and thousands of students from Lakewood, from communities in the tri-state area, are filling El Al planes and heading to Israel to study at the different rabbinical schools – thousands," he said. "My nephew left yesterday afternoon, and I hope that continues.”
"I want the community to know that I believe no stone is being unturned," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who has written to Secretary of State John Kerry asking for aid in the search.
"Please bring him back," pleaded Sofer's brother Yaakov, during the press conference on Tuesday. Aaron Sofer is one of 10 children.
Sofer is described as being 5’9” tall, with red hair and a red beard. He was last seen wearing black pants, a white shirt, a black yarmulka and glasses.
According to family friend and former Lakewood Mayor Meir Lichtenstein, Sofer was between semesters when he went hiking Friday in the forest, which is bordered by both Jewish and Arab communities.
Lichtenstein, who is communicating with both the Sofer family and Israeli authorities, said Israeli police are pursuing all avenues in their investigation, including the possibility that Sofer may have fallen victim to an attack by Palestinian terrorists.
Ha’Aretz reported that Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Tuesday that the police were pursuing all avenues in their investigation, including "nationalistic motives," a phrase tied to the conflict between Israel and Palestinian terrorists.
"Obviously, the concern that he may have been abducted is there because of the volatile events," Lichtenstein said.
The crisis between Israelis and Palestinians has spiked in recent weeks with the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
On June 12, Hamas operatives kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teens in the Gush Etzion region. The killings of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Sha’ar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, triggered a massive Israeli arrest campaign of suspected Hamas members followed by an increase in rocket fire from Gaza.
Lou Young, a CBS channel 2 reporter said that Sofer’s neighbors gathered Monday night, praying for his safe return and that five prayer vigils have already taken place in Lakewood since news of Sofer’s disappearance broke and the end of Shabbos. “It’s scary to think what possibly could be the ramifications,” said neighbor Tzvi Meth. “Great fear is that he was accosted; he was taken away, kidnapped.”
"We don't know how to deal with this," a family member of Sofer told Arutz Sheva. "They tell us that there are fears for his life, and there still isn't even a thread to go on, but what's driving us crazy are the rumors of an abduction."
One of the sources helping in the search told Arutz Sheva that the danger to Sofer's life increases with each hour that passes, saying "each passing hour that he doesn't contact us raises the concern that he is unable to contact us. There is definitely a fear for his life. Therefore, we ask for the help of the public."
Sofer's family has set up a website, Search for Sofer, to raise money for the search and is offering as reward money for information that leads to Sofer's whereabouts.