Local News

‘There is no hesitation’: South Florida residents fly to Israel to attend funerals, respond to military bases

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Baraq Harrison said when he learned what was happening to children and elderly people in Israel during the unprecedented attack by Hamas on Saturday he knew what to do.

In a moment of self-reflection, Harrison said he knew the reality was just far too disturbing to not put his military training to use and to help protect vulnerable civilians.

“I just have this thing inside of me that won’t let me, like, live with myself, if I don’t go and help,” he said. “Even if it’s not to fight, if it’s just to go drive around and drop food off to soldiers, help other people. I didn’t go to the army for nothing.”

Harrison is among a group of Israeli-American reservists who live in South Florida who have started to board flights to report to duty in the largest mobilization of reservists that Israel has experienced.

Harrison, who was born in the United States and raised in Israel, booked a one-way ticket. He plans to fly out of Miami International Airport on Saturday.

The Hallandale Beach resident said he joined the Israeli military when he was 20 years old, and he has specialized training in guerilla warfare, so he will be reporting to an Israeli military base.

“I am going back, yeah,” he said. “Like, there is no hesitation.”

While many flew back, others were returning home to the states from Israel.

“I flew this morning, I come back, it was full,” said Shlomi Lugassy, who returned from visiting Israel for the first time in more than 30 years.

Lugassy, whose children live in South Florida, said Israeli-Americans were praying in the back of the plane.

“I didn’t have a good feeling to come back here because I’m feeling like I’m leaving my country in the war, its not the right thing to do,” he said. “I’m supposed to stay over there.”

While major airlines suspended flights to Israel, El Al Israel Airlines is still in operation for reservists and those who have to attend relatives’ funerals. At Miami International Airport, Jordan Cohen was both a reservist and a grieving relative.

Cohen, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, was preparing to board the only flight returning to Tel Aviv on Monday. He was grieving the loss of his cousin Capt. Raz Peretz, of the Golani brigade.

When Peretz vanished, Cohen, who bought a one-way ticket, said he and his family had hoped for a miracle. Now his funeral is one of the many that will be held on Tuesday in Israel.

“We thought, maybe he was hiding somewhere, but his body was found this morning,” Cohen said.

Rabbi Levi Kurinsky, who serves at the Chabad of Miami International Airport, learned about the flight that Cohen was boarding, and he rushed out of Terminal J in an effort to find Jews who while dealing with fear and grief needed support.

“People are connecting. They want to pray. They want to unite,” he said, adding that Monday was by far the busiest day he has ever had during his service at the airport.

Harrison said his family in South Florida begged him not to go, but his sense of duty is stronger. He admitted to feeling nervous and concerned even for the unarmed civilians in the Gaza Strip.

“I separate Hamas from the Palestinian people,” Harrison said. “At the end of the day, I wish for all the safety and a bright future for each Palestinian. I do not wish that for the Hamas people. I wish quite the opposite.”

Cohen said he was in Israel during the 2014 Gaza war, so he said he has an idea of what he will be walking into. Their hope, both said, is that peace comes sooner rather than later.

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About the Authors:

Andrew Perez is a South Florida native who joined the Local 10 News team in May 2014.

Layron Livingston made the move from Ohio’s Miami Valley to Miami, Florida, to join the Local 10 News team.