Hero’s Death

A grandson dies while saving lives in Israel

By Cecily Hastings
December 2023

Something seemed amiss as I greeted my neighbor Brenda Wolfson. She and her husband Jon had been out of the country for two weeks. I didn’t know why.

Their journey involved the worst news a family can hear.

The Wolfson’s grandson, Yannai Kaminka, 20, was killed when Hamas militants attacked his military base on the first day of the Israel-Hamas war. He was a lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Forces Home Front Command. He died three weeks before his 21st birthday.

Kaminka was part of a unit stationed at Zikim Training Base south of Ashkelon. The base had around 90 new recruits and trainees. Kaminka played a large role in protecting them, along with a nearby community.

Then came Oct. 7. About 50 Hamas operatives attacked the base.

“All of the recruits on that base were saved. Plus, behind the base was a kibbutz, one of these small, kind of rural communities, but amazingly everybody survived,” Wolfson says. “At least Yannai died a hero, and he saved so many lives.”

Wolfson learned of her grandson’s death from a WhatsApp message from her daughter Elana, Kaminka’s mother. “There on my cellphone were six words that I’ll never forget: ‘He was killed. Come to Israel,’” Wolfson says.

The Wolfsons traveled to Israel for Kaminka’s funeral, held two days after his death. They met military colleagues who described her grandson’s lifesaving heroism.

Brenda recalled a conversation with a young woman and her mother. “She said, ‘This is my daughter, and your grandson saved her life. She received this head wound in the middle of the fight, and Yannai dragged her to safety, bandaged her head, put her behind a column and ran out and continued fighting and she lived.’ And I said to the mother and the girl, ‘Live a good life for our grandson.’

“That’s really the comfort, knowing so many peoples’ lives were saved,” Wolfson says.

The Wolfsons returned to Sacramento a few weeks ago. “I find myself often looking through photos of my grandson, including pictures of him, my daughter and other family members at his military ceremony from the summer of 2022,” she says.

“You see them grow and you realize what the passage of time means, and suddenly here he is, a man, a soldier taller than me doing amazing things.”

Kaminka was born and raised in Israel but visited his grandparents in Sacramento almost every summer. He spent a year here in 2017 before returning to Israel. Kaminka’s mother is a peace activist who grew up in Davis and volunteered for Humans Without Borders, a group that provided hospital transportation for Palestinian children.

“I have so many sweet memories from when he was smaller and when they used to come and stay with us. He was just an adorable child,” Wolfson says.

Kaminka was a father figure for recruits at his base. “He considered his recruits just like his kids. Colleagues of his in the military came and talked to us and said how he took care of everybody,” Wolfson says. “He was warm, and he was like their dad, and he did love being in the army because he loved helping people.”

Kaminka was helping people when he died in the Hamas attack. “He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for the people who he saved, he was in the right place at the right time,” Wolfson says.

Please join me in keeping the Wolfson family in your hearts and prayers, along with every innocent victim of this horrible war.

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Cecily Hastings can be reached at publisher@insidepublications.com. Follow us on Facebook, X and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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