The family of a New Jersey student missing in Israel on Tuesday appealed to the U.S. and Israeli governments to use all the resources available to find their son amid fears he may have been abducted.
Aaron Sofer, 23, disappeared in a Jerusalem forest on Friday while hiking with a friend. Despite massive search efforts, Sofer has not been found.
“As you are aware, Aaron has been missing for four days and there is great concern for his safety. The search of the Jerusalem forest continues and all possibilities, including abduction, are being considered,” the Sofer family said in a statement.
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The statement was read Tuesday morning during a news conference in Sofer’s hometown of Lakewood, New Jersey, where politicians, members of the Orthodox Jewish community and some of Sofer’s siblings gathered to call for more help.
“There’s a sense that not enough was done from the very, very beginning and not enough attention was paid to the disappearance of Aaron,” said Dov Hikind, an assemblyman from New York. He called on Israelis to raise the level of intensity in their search.
“So what I want to say to the Israeli government, ‘Treat Aaron as if he was an Israeli soldier missing.’ Because we know what the Israeli government does when an Israeli soldier goes missing. Every resource in the world is put into it. And Aaron is a soldier," he said.
Sofer, an ultra-Orthodox student, is studying in Israel. According to family friend and former Lakewood Mayor Meir Lichtenstein, Sofer was between semesters when he went hiking Friday in the forest, which is bordered by both Jewish and Arab communities.
Lichtenstein, who is communicating with both the Sofer family and Israeli authorities, said Israeli police are pursuing all avenues in their investigation, including the possibility that Sofer may have fallen victim to an attack by Palestinian militants.
"Obviously, the concern that he may have been abducted is there because of the volatile events," Lichtenstein said.
The crisis between Israelis and Palestinians has spiked in recent weeks with the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
That war, which erupted on July 8, stemmed from the abduction and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank by Hamas operatives in June. The killings triggered a massive Israeli arrest campaign in the West Bank, followed by an increase in rocket fire from Gaza.
In an apparent revenge attack, right-wing Israeli Jews kidnapped and burned to death a young Palestinian boy near Jerusalem in early July. That attack occurred in the same forest where Sofer went missing.
Hikind said the concern for safety extends beyond Sofer.
"As we speak, thousands and thousands of students from Lakewood, from communities in the tri-state area, are filling El Al planes and heading to Israel to study at the different rabbinical schools – thousands," he said. "My nephew left yesterday afternoon, and I hope that continues.”
Sofer's family has set up a website, Search for Sofer, to raise money for the search and is offering as reward money for information that leads to Sofer's whereabouts.