Search on for N.J. student missing while hiking near Jerusalem

Aaron Sofer, a yeshiva student. "It's not clear yet as to what has happened," an Israeli police spokesman said. "All directions are being looked into."
Aaron Sofer, a yeshiva student. "It's not clear yet as to what has happened," an Israeli police spokesman said. "All directions are being looked into."
Posted: August 27, 2014

A young Orthodox Jewish man from Lakewood, N.J., is the object of a massive search in Israel after he went missing Friday while hiking in woods outside Jerusalem.

Aaron Sofer, 23, was hiking in the Beit Sayit area with a friend when they became separated while climbing down a steep hill, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Israeli officials say they cannot rule out that Sofer, a yeshiva student who was wearing a yarmulke and other clothing identifying him as Jewish, might have been kidnapped.

The forest was where the burned corpse of a Palestinian teenager, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was found last month. Khdeir was killed by Jewish assailants in apparent revenge for the slaying of three Israeli students by Palestinian attackers whom Israeli authorities have linked to the militant group Hamas.

Sofer's hiking companion, who has not been identified, reportedly searched for him for several hours before filing a missing person's report with police about 6 p.m.

That report launched a search that included helicopters, dogs, and hundreds of police and volunteers, according to news reports. Sofer's parents flew to Israel on Sunday to join in the search.

"It's not clear yet as to what has happened," Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, according to the Post. "All directions are being looked into."

Rosenfeld said police had set up a command center in the forest to coordinate the search. Surrounding neighborhoods are also being explored.

An emergency response organization in Israel known as ZAKA has taken part in the search, and a network of Orthodox rabbis also called on its membership to turn out volunteers for the search.

Sofer, whose Hebrew name is Aharon ben Hulda, is described as 5 feet, 9 inches tall, with glasses and a closely cropped red beard. He was wearing a white shirt and black trousers.


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