Friday morning Nov. 4th we returned back to our Tapuach base exhausted. However, most of us could not yet retire to get some sleep. We still had two dozen dogs at the kennels that required care and we still had to get shopping and cooking done for Shabbat. Shabbat we would have 6 volunteers and an additional 4 yeshiva boys who joined us for Shabbat. Since we also run the minyan on the hill of Tapuach and the early morning prayers in the Yishuv in addition to our canine tasks we worked through the day Friday up until a minute before Shabbat. We were hoping to make kidush and start the meal immediately following the prayer services on the hill. This we did. During the meal, I dozed off on the couch near the dining room table only to be woken by the sound of my phone ringing. “No”! I mumbled to myself, as I jumped off of the couch and into my nearby room to get the phone, “Don’t tell me we have an emergency search,” to find a missing person at risk. On the other line was Dudu the head of our Northern branch, who has probably single-handedly found more missing people in the last year than all of the police and army combined.
“Mike, there is a very serious case in “Yad Rambam” near Ramla. A woman, who never went missing before, put out the food to cook before Shabbat, left the house walking and never returned to her husband and 4 children and this was 12 hours ago at 7:00 AM, police are requesting our help. This is an absolute emergency.” I asked him for the number of the local officer in charge of the search. I called, hoping to hear that she was found or that there are not much open fields or forests in the immediate area. I knew the area from a previous search for a doctor from Hadassah hospital who went missing from a nearby moshav. Jon Davidov the officer from the Ramla police precinct on the other line pleaded with me to come, expressing the need especially for dogs in the search. Ouch, another search. We are dead-tired. However, the halachic guidelines as prescribed by Rabbi Lior are clear. If there is a clear threat to life and if you can save the life by detecting the location of the missing person in distress, with the dogs and your search efforts, then you must go, even if this means violating the Shabbat. We packed some equipment and food along with the dogs and off we went. To Yad Rambam, 43 minutes away, according to the Waze app.
I now had to wake a few of the guys who were fast asleep, exhausted from yesterday’s search. I have to admit this case turned into one of the most bizarre cases we ever had. We arrived at the entrance to the moshav. The police waited for us to escort us to the house of the missing person, S.M., where we found her daughters and her sisters and neighbors crying with a several squad cars outside. She left Friday morning, without telling anyone. Leaving the fish to thaw out on the counter and the tomatoes and eggplants ready to be cooked for Shabbat, and she disappeared. A camera on the house that borders the closest exit-gate of the moshav picked her up walking off with a small bag and slippers and turning left towards the highway or the Gezer Valley in the nearby field.
It was now 12 hours since she went missing, despite the difficulty in trying to work a tracking dog in Israel after so many hours we had little to lose by trying. S.M.’s husband now returned home, after being released by police. We had no idea that he at that time was a suspect or that he had been in police custody. This we only learned Shabbat morning, after asking neighbors on the way home from synagogue what their feelings were and after rising concerns about the strange behavior of the husband. Every neighbor seemed to say the same thing, “She would never harm herself, but he would harm her and would beat her”. In fact, we were told he had beaten her the night before and maybe she ran away from the house or just went to get some fresh air. She never went missing before and loves and lives for her 4 children – she would never harm herself. She takes no drugs and drinks no alcohol. (That does not mean that someone else did not spike her drink.) There has been a lot of stress at home as their business crashed and they are bankrupt. But you would never know it looking at their beautiful villa and nice jeep and car parked in front of the house.
In the meantime, Daniel a dog handler and volunteer with a tracking dog arrived from Tel Aviv with his dog - loco. The police helped us secure some clothing of the missing person so that we can have Daniel’s dog sniff the garment and commence the search from the house seeing where the dog would lead us, and to see if the dog would indeed catch the scent and take us over the path that we knew she used based on the camera near the gate. Loco is a trailing dog, which means that she may not follow exactly the footsteps of our missing person but she should follow the general path and direction where the S.M’s scent left an impression, alongside the curbs or trees or fences she had passed in addition to footsteps. Loco led us to a tunnel that runs into the field and under the road and later into the field where Loco appeared to lose the scent. It is possible S.M. sat in the shade in the underpass for a while and that her scent was strong there because of the longtime that she spent there, in that more contain ed area, that would maintain her scent.
We then had Lee take out D’Jango - a tracking down that has not worked much over recent months. D’Jango is a fun Dutch Shepherd. He plays around during training but when there is a real search or a competition he seems to understand the gravity of the situation and he gets serious and works very well. He had his nose to the ground clearly working and sniffing the footsteps. At one point he lost the scent, to be returned to the last spot where he was visibly working and he took off like a rocket, catching the scent again and leading us directly to a bus stop across the highway, more or less following the path S.M. took when she left the Moshav. When D’Jango got to the bus-stop he circled and indicated there. We thought that it was very possible that she may have taken a bus towards Ramla/Tel Aviv or got a lift from the bus stop. However, we still felt obligated to search a 2-3 kilometer radius from the house, which included valleys, forest type areas and open fields. We would take a rest as it was now after midnight and most of us did not sleep much due to Thursday’s search.
After Yehuda and I returned from a few hours of searching, we woke the others up and set off to establish the command center closer to the new areas we would have to extend the search to. At around 12.30 the crews returned from the next search tasks and we would rest, make Kiddush and eat something at the command center. An hour later we resumed the search. By now S.M.’s siblings and their spouses found our new command center and they wanted to help in the search. When I learned how emotionally attached and close our missing-person was to her loving family I realized that this case is far more severe than we had originally contemplated. There is no way that S.M. would not contact one of her family members who she is regularly in contact with unless she was in a position where she could not talk or dead.
To be continued another time.
S.M. was found alive (I don’t know how well though) she is in a hospital in Haifa and reunited with her family. It seems that D’Jango was right. She evidently got to that bus stop he led us too and ended up in Haifa after changing buses…
The IDU Israel Dog Unit won’t be sleeping much later today-
Later today I hope to drop off two security dogs in Kiryat Arba and perhaps two additional security dogs in Efrat and give the recipients a crash-course in the proper maintenance and bonding with these highly trained security dogs - So that they are ready on Nov. 16th, for their first training exercise with the dogs. Then, I hope to go to Haifa for yet one last ditch effort to find Shlomo Didya.
Every day of operations and training of the unit can easily cost 1500 shekels to gas up the cars, feed the volunteers, care for the dogs etc…We need more volunteers and funds to keep our unit alive and well, in position to help with the security of many Jewish towns and “settlements” in Israel as well as to conduct the searches for missing people. Both our security programs with dogs as well as our SAR - search and rescue endeavors are in desperate need of funds at this time.
Donations can be sent directly to Maginei HaEretz LMaan Hazulat POBox 6592 Jerusalem Israel 91060
CC donations or bank transfer can be sent. Here is the donate link on our site:
With Love of Israel, Yekutiel (Mike)