A New Jersey-born dual citizen serving in the Israel Defense Forces was killed in the unprecedented cross-border sneak attack on Saturday by Palestinian militant group Hamas, his family learned Tuesday.
After an excruciating four-day wait, relatives of Paramus native Itay Glisko were informed that the 20-year-old’s body had been found.
Eyal Glisko, who lives in North Jersey, got word of his cousin’s death shortly after 7:30 p.m. local time, he told The Daily Beast. Another relative, Zehava Glisko Kaufman, was at a gathering at the Jewish Community Center in Tenafly for a show of support when she found out that Itay was gone.
“A soldier that was with him said he fought with courage to the end,” Glisko Kaufman said. “He was truly an amazing kid.”
Itay spent the first year or two of his life in the Garden State, after which his parents moved the family to a city in the northern part of Israel, according to Eyal. They were regular working people, raising three kids, he said. When Itay turned 18, he joined the IDF for his mandatory three-year stint.
“He was doing his duty, that’s it,” said Eyal, who has lived and worked in Northern New Jersey for the past two decades.
He described Itay as “such a beautiful boy.”
The incursion by Hamas killed more than 1,000 people—14 of them Americans—according to the White House. Up to 150 others are being held hostage in Gaza, among them members of the Israeli Defense Forces, Hamas has claimed. Itay had not been seen or heard from since the unspeakable violence erupted, but those who loved him still held out hope for the impossible.
Prior to the news of Itay’s death, the young IDF soldier’s relatives had been glued to the TV, studying the ghastly footage emerging from the area, searching for a glimpse of him—dead or alive. Video of Hamas militants taking hostages, both civilian and military, young and old, emerged in the hours and days following the shock incursion that saw civilians massacred and a wheelchair-bound Holocaust survivor kidnapped. One Israeli man watched in horror as six of his relatives were abducted.
On Monday, Hamas vowed to begin executing captives on television in retaliation for Israel’s military response. Some 900 people in Gaza have died since Saturday, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
The agonizing wait for news about Itay had already “devastated” the family, according to Eyal.
“Nobody has heard anything, so we don’t know if he’s alive or dead,” Eyal said a few hours before receiving the news of Itay’s death. “If he was captured, was he captured alive? Was he killed and then [his corpse was] captured? Right now, we’re in limbo… We’re hoping and praying that he’s found alive, or even captured would be a better outcome. All I know right now is, he’s missing.”
At the same time, Eyal emphasized, “With all due respect to my family, this is not just him. There are hundreds of families in this position, that don’t know what happened to their loved ones.”
“I don’t know how many of them are soldiers,” he noted. “But it’s devastating. It’s devastating.”
Itay was “the sandwich boy,” Glisko Kaufman said, describing his place in his household as the middle child. He was as smart as he was funny, and “loved by everybody,” Glisko Kaufman went on, calling Itay “a very nice mensch.”
Glisko Kaufman called the past few days “heartwrenching,” not knowing what was going on with Itay or where he was.
Everyone in the family was “beside themselves” with worry, Kaufman said, noting that her uncle was killed in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.
“Nobody’s sleeping, everybody’s just waiting to hear some news,” she said on Tuesday afternoon.
Eyal said his politics lean far to the left, and that he has long been supportive of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. However, he noted, the area that Hamas invaded is not occupied territory or a region populated by Jewish settlers, but land that has been part of Israel for nearly 75 years.
“This is not about finding solutions,” Eyal said. “They just went in and butchered everybody. This was like ISIS.”
At a press conference on Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden struck a similar tone, comparing the Hamas attack to the “worst rampages of ISIS.” The militant group’s threat to execute hostages runs counter to “every code of human morality,” Biden said, telling reporters, “There are moments in this life, and I mean this literally, when pure unadulterated evil is unleashed on this world. The people of Israel lived through one such moment this weekend.”
The administration began delivering munitions to Israel on Monday.
What began on Saturday is not likely to end anytime soon, and will come to be seen as a watershed moment in Israel’s history, according to Eyal.
“I don’t think we ever will forget it,” he said. “You know, what they did is crazy.”