My name is Yuval Klein. I got my bachelor’s degree in Israel and my master’s degree in Tokyo, Japan. I got to know AEPi through my cousin from Canada who told me a lot of stories from when he was in university. When he came to Israel as a lone soldier, he wanted me to join AEPi and invited me to join as an honorary Brother. I’m very happy I did because I’ve met wonderful people and have made a lot of good business connections. I’ve been very engaged with AEPi since the outset.
I served in the IDF as a search and rescue and intelligence officer. At that time, I didn’t know that it was going to become such an important branch. Through this, I’ve participated in a lot of operations and delegations to foreign countries for search and rescue. I was in the delegation to Surfside in Miami, Florida two years ago; it was a very small delegation of only 10 Israeli officers. We have a very special technique of analyzing where the people are buried and how to rescue them.
I was born in the United States and have dual citizenship. My family made Aliyah when I was two years old. Because of this, I had a very special moment a year after the Surfside disaster: I returned to Miami because the Israeli soldiers were going to be given medals from First Lady Jill Biden at a memorial. She told me that she heard I was also American and was proud of what I had done. It was a very special moment.
About three weeks ago, I came back from the delegation of 150 Israeli soldiers in Turkey after the massive earthquake. It was like an apocalypse like you see in the movies. Thousands of buildings collapsed. It’s not like anything that I’ve ever seen in my life. You would drive and see destruction of buildings that were up to 18 stories tall. The temperature was freezing, and there’s no gas, no electricity and everybody lit fires to keep warm. We would go on the piles that were once buildings and rip off any wood just to make fires. You could see thousands of fires from people trying to stay warm. I saw tens of thousands of refugees with trash bags on their backs with everything they collected from the rubble. It was horrifying.
I also participated in a very specific mission in Turkey. I was part of a very small force that got a specific order from the Minister of Defense in Israel to go to another city on the border of Turkey and Syria. It has a very hostile population with ISIS and Iranians. We got an order to rescue the head of the Jewish community and his wife because they were missing after the earthquake. We were 25 people and half of us were from special forces, and the other half were rescue officers from other Commando units. We went anonymously. We took off all of our badges, our ranks and the Israeli flag from our uniform. The road was 200 kilometers south of the city we went to initially. It was supposed to be a three hour drive but the roads were broken, the bridges collapsed and we had two earthquakes while we were driving. It took us 11 hours because we had to get off the buses and clear the road. Our commander made some very brave decisions. There were many points where we wanted to turn around and go back because it was not safe. We did not know how to defend ourselves but we decided to stay because these are Jewish people and this is our mission. We’re Israel, it’s a Jewish country and we are here for the Jewish people.
Once we got there, we started searching for the head of the Jewish community. We searched for them for the next 48 hours. While there, we had Syrians gather around us who started accusing us of being Israeli. Everybody went into a house and I stayed outside because I’m a blonde ginger with blue eyes and told the Syrians that I’m Dutch. I tried to get them away from the house. We didn’t find the family near there but kept searching. We broke into their building and started digging throughout the whole apartment. Finally we found them, buried in their apartment, under the rubble; they were dead. We extracted their souls out, we don’t like to say bodies. We put them in a car and sent them to Istanbul for a Jewish burial. We got out of there but on the way out we came across other Syrians and almost had a fire fight with them but at the last moment we managed to get out of it. We got back to our camp safely.
When I look back at it, there’s two things which are very clear. This was a crazy special operation because usually we prepare and train for three to four months for an operation. We learn the geography, the conditions, the intelligence, and know exactly what’s going on. But, search and rescue is a very responsive action. An earthquake is something you cannot plan for in advance. We just went out and improvised.
It’s really amazing to see how the IDF has set a goal to save every Jew around the world. If something happens to you, we’ll be there. We’ll take care of you. We’ll extract you from wherever there’s danger. I’m very proud of it. I really feel that this is a message we need to convey to the Jewish people around the world. I’m not saying we’re going to come everywhere, but the state of Israel is really taking on this role and I’m very proud of it. I decided that after this mission, my mission in this world is to tell all Jewish people that we have an amazing nation. The Jewish people are heroes. The rescuers who I saw in Turkey are heroes.