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Utah man killed in Israel, his Salt Lake City rabbi says

“He died doing a thing we all like to do: to dance and enjoy our freedom,” a friend said of Lotan Abir, who was killed early Saturday.

A 24-year-old man who recently relocated to Utah died Saturday when Hamas launched an assault on Israeli settlements near the Gaza Strip, his Salt Lake City rabbi confirmed Tuesday.

Lotan Abir was attending a rave in southern Israel late Friday with a few other members of Utah’s Jewish community when the event came under fire early Saturday, Rabbi Avremi Zippel, with Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, said Tuesday. Over 260 people were killed in the attack, and an undetermined number were taken hostage, according to The Associated Press.

Two of the Utahns whom Abir attended the event with were able to escape, Zippel said, but Abir was later listed as missing. His family and friends were notified of his death Sunday.

(Ohad Zwigenberg | AP) Destroyed cars are seen at the rave party site near the Kibbutz Re'im, close to the Gaza Strip border fence, on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. Israel's rescue service Zaka said paramedics had recovered at least 260 bodies of people killed in a surprise attack by Hamas militants Saturday.

“He was the sort of person that you would want to call your friend,” Zippel said. “He ultimately gave up his life for the sake of our people at a rave while celebrating some of his greatest passions in life. ... Just a kind, sweet, fun-loving, innocent soul who was massacred by a terrorist.”

The music festival attack is believed to be the worst civilian massacre in Israeli history, The Associated Press reported Monday, unfolding as attendees came together to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

It was part of a larger coordinated assault that began Saturday, with the Israeli military reporting over 1,000 people dead since Hamas militants surprisingly stormed the Gaza border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu soon declared Israel was at war. Over 830 people have since been killed in Gaza and the West Bank, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kaylee Gordon waves a flag as she and her family gathers with members of Congregation Kol Ami and supporters, gather to mourn those murdered by the Hamas terrorist attack, on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.

Abir first moved to Utah in late 2022, after he finished military service in Israel, Zippel recalled. Abir had traveled back to Israel over the summer to attend a few events — including the August wedding of someone he had befriended in Utah’s Jewish community, Zippel said.

Elad Ogorek, one of Abir’s friends in Utah’s young Jewish professional community, visited Israel with Abir this summer. Ogorek heard about the attack from the two Utahns who were with Abir at the rave but escaped.

One was injured by shattered glass when gunfire shot through his car’s windows, Ogorek said. Neither heard from Abir after they fled.

“We knew it was going to be bad news; we didn’t know what type of bad news it was gonna be,” Ogorek said. “We actually said ourselves, and asked each other, ‘What’s better — to get kidnapped to Gaza or just die?’”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.

Abir will be remembered as someone with a good heart, who was optimistic and aways willing to help others, Ogorek said.

“He died doing a thing we all like to do: to dance and enjoy our freedom,” Ogorek said, adding that Abir’s death is a “loss to all of us.”

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that 14 U.S. citizens have been killed in the fighting that first erupted Saturday, The Associated Press reported. U.S. officials have said that death toll could increase, noting about 20 Americans remain unaccounted for.

Leaders and members of Utah’s Jewish community — along with Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and other local and state leaders — planned to gather at the state’s largest synagogue, Congregation Kol Ami, at 5 p.m. Tuesday to show their support for Israel.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson says a few words as members of Congregation Kol Ami, and supporters of Israel gathered to mourn those murdered by the Hamas terrorist attack, on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.

“Many in our community have family and friends being called up from reserve duty to defend Israel on its southern border and prevent from any escalation in the north,” the United Jewish Federation of Utah wrote in an announcement about the Tuesday gathering.

Gov. Spencer Cox on Monday also ordered flags at state facilities to be flown at half-staff through Friday ”in solidarity with the State of Israel and its people,” according to a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

On Tuesday, the governor said he planned to attend another scheduled rally Wednesday, at the south steps of the Capitol at 5 p.m., to support Israel. The event plans for “prayer and inspiration,” a notice states.