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Israeli solider remembered by his metro Atlanta family and congregation

DeKalb County Metro ATL Trending

Israeli solider remembered by his metro Atlanta family and congregation

Photo provided by Atlanta News First

By Abby Kousouris, Atlanta News First

ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) — People across Atlanta have close ties to Israel. One DeKalb County Jewish congregation is mourning the loss of an Israeli soldier who spent a year living in metro Atlanta.

His name was Dekel Swissa. Swissa served as a Shinshin, a program that brings teens to Atlanta, in 2018.

Adam Starr, a rabbi at Ohr HaTorah, a synagogue in the Toco Hills neighborhood, said Swissa is a true hero after learning about his final moments. Swissa was serving as the commander of his unit near the Gaza border when he alerted to troops approaching. Swissa ordered soldiers into the bomb shelter, closed the door, and turned around and faced attackers.

“One of the soldiers who survived stated upon witnessing his last moments of life, he saved our lives,” said Starr.

Cheryl Hass hosted Swissa in her Druid Hills home five years ago when he was 18. He impressed her with his kindness and manners. She said he fell in love with Atlanta sports, while always talking about Israeli football back home.

They kept in touch. Swissa visited the family and flew home to celebrate big life moments with his new-found brothers and sisters.

“He loved his country, it was part of the reason why he was here, to show his love for Israel. This is of course personal loss for us, a whole new perspective. This is life and death in Israel right now,” Haas said.

Rabbi Starr brought thousands of people together to stand in solidarity with Israel and to support Swissa’s family.

Ohr Hatorah collected monetary donations and Rabbi Starr plans to travel to Israel in the next few weeks.

In other news related to the Israel-Hamas war: 

— For a detailed timeline of the conflict, click here.

— Atlanta News First reported that Palestinians and supporters held a rally outside the CNN Center on Saturday, Oct. 14, to stand in solidarity with Palestine following the attacks by Hamas.

The UN estimates that 1,300 Israelis and more than 3,000 Palestinians have died since Oct. 7, according to CNBC.

— Local school districts have been on guard since the terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 that caused the current conflict.

City Schools of Decatur sent out a community safety advisory on Oct. 12.

“City Schools of Decatur (CSD) is aware of threats targeting the Jewish community following the escalated violence in Israel and Gaza,” the email says. “We have not received any threats to the district or any of our schools. However, CSD is collaborating with the City of Decatur Police Department, and we are monitoring the situation closely.”

DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Devon Horton also spoke about the conflict in a recent email to parents.

“The safety and well-being of our students, staff, families, and community remain paramount in every DeKalb County School District (DCSD) school, center, and property.,” he said. “To that end, I’ll underscore that, to date, there have been no reported specific threats or acts of violence within our schools related to the tragic events abroad. Nonetheless, we have taken additional safety measures. Our DCSD Police Officers, campus security, school administrators, and staff have been instructed to be specifically vigilant in identifying and investigating any potential threats or physical altercations that may be related to these events.”

To read the full email from Horton, click here.

An initial statement released by Atlanta Public Schools following the attack was widely panned for being weak and making a reference to the Civil Rights movement, prompting APS to release a stronger statement days later, according to Rough Draft Atlanta.

— The DeKalb County Commission and CEO Michael Thurmond adopted a resolution condemning Hamas and raised a flag in support of Israeli citizens killed in the Oct. 7 attack.

Photo: DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond (holding left corner of the Israeli flag) stands with Anat Sultan-Dadon (to his left), Consulate General of Israel to the Southeastern U.S., and members of the Board of Commissioners and other guests. Photo provided by DeKalb County

Decaturish media partner Atlanta News First provided this story