The Last Journey: the Story of Or Assraf

Or Assraf z”l fought in Operation Protective Edge, was injured in battle, recovered and set out on a trip to the Far East. When a disastrous earthquake struck Nepal during his trip, Or’s family, friends and former comrades followed him across the world in an attempt to locate him and bring him home. Or was found, but tragically did not complete his journey. This is his brave, moving story.  

22-year-old Or Assraf was trekking in Langtang, Nepal as part of his trip to the Far East after his release from the army. On April 27 Nepal was struck by a devastating earthquake. Within hours, the IDF (Zahal) sent out a humanitarian mission to aid the Nepalese people and locate missing Israelis. Days later, when part of the mission returned to Israel with a group of rescued Israelis from Nepal, Or was among those who could still not be reached or contacted.

The IDF (Zahal)’s search and rescue units, in collaboration with Hasidic search and rescue units, Magen David Adom (the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross) and ZAKA (Disaster Victim Identification), set out on an extensive search after the missing Israelis in the dangerous areas of Nepal. Gradually, all of the Israeli missing persons were reported or heard from, until the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially announced that only one remained missing- Or Assraf.

The Last Journey: the Story of Or Assraf

Orit Assraf holding up the sign in Ben Gurion Airport.

Or’s mother, Orit, waited for the rescued Israelis at the airport with a sign inquiring if any of them had seen her son. When this attempt failed, Or’s father, Patrick, set out on a mission to find his son. The family opened a situation room and recruited many volunteers from the IDF (Zahal), ZAKA, the Isralife Foundation and other organizations. The volunteers joined Patrick and travelled with him to Nepal to continue searching for Or. Soon after, Or’s squad commander and his fellow soldiers joined the other volunteers. Or’s sister, Ella, who was awaiting her father’s return and praying that her brother would come back with him, said in recent days: ”I think about Or, about how strong he is and about the challenges he has faced in his life. The support of the people of Israel helps me through this hard time.”

Or Assraf: A Soldier, a Son and a Friend to Us All

Or was the son of Patrick and Orit and a brother to Ella. He lived with his family in Lehavim, Israel. His many friends described him as sweet, talented, big hearted, patriotic and compassionate. He drafted into the IDF (Zahal) in October 2011 as a soldier in the special unit “Shaldag”, and later in his service was transferred to the special unit “Egoz.”

The Last Journey: the Story of Or Assraf

Or Assraf in the military.

During Operation Protective Edge Or participated in the difficult battle in the neighbourhood of Shu’jaya in Gaza. On July 21, 2014 he lost two of his comrades and friends- Tal Yefrach z”l and Yuval Dagan z”l. During the battle, Or was charged with clearing a house in which terrorists were hiding. He was moderately injured and was later hospitalized and treated. “I thought about the worst possible scenario. Death was something that went through my mind, moving a centimeter to the right or the left made all the difference between life and death. I know that I have to move on, and my heart is with the families of my friends who fell. One has to know how to lift one’s head and move on with one’s life. That’s what they [my friends] wanted us to do,” said Or two months after Operation Protective Edge.

Or’s Solitary and Brave Journey

After the operation, Or recovered from his injuries and was released from the army. He decided to realize his life-long dream, to travel, and he set out on a long trip that was due to end in July of 2015. While on his trip, Or kept in touch with the mothers of his friends who fell. He took pictures of himself holding his friends’ photo, so that their spirit could live on with him.

The last recording of him is a voice message he sent three days before the earthquake to Aviva Yefrach, Tal’s mother. In the recording he can be heard saying: “Hello Aviva. I’m here in Nepal, volunteering in an ecological village. Soon I will go to the local school to teach children English and then I will travel to Kathmandu, where Chabad is holding a memorial service in honor of IDF (Zahal) soldiers who fell in battle. I will tell them stories about Tal and Yuvi. Know that I love you. You are like a mother to me. I wish I could be there with you for Memorial Day, I really do miss you and when I get back I will be with you. Stay strong.”

The Last Journey: the Story of Or Assraf

Or Assraf z”l with his friend, Tal Yefrach z”l who fell during Operation Protective Edge.

The Tragic Ending to the Search

Yesterday, May 3, the search after Or reached its conclusion. Or’s commander and comrades recovered his body in a secluded, dangerous stretch of the Langtang after three hectic, nerve-wrecking days of searching. They recognized him by the scars he was marked with as a result of the injuries he sustained during Operation Protective Edge. They carried him on a stretcher and passed a message to his mother: “This is our last journey with our friend. We are bringing him home to you.”

The Last Journey: the Story of Or Assraf