Everything happened so fast that he can hardly identify the moment his life was transformed from “before” to “after.” One second he was a regular businessman at the end of a busy work day, and the next he was injured and bleeding, a captive in his own vehicle with the muzzle of a gun pressed into his neck. This is the story of Moshe Benedek, who endured almost 24 hours of terror while his family, friends, and Jews all over the world davened for his release and anxiously awaited updates on his welfare.
“It was amazing to see how many people cared about what was happening to me,” he begins. “They didn’t even know who I was, but they were genuinely concerned. I am grateful to every single person who helped and davened for me. There was so much interest that the police officer who was in charge of the case complained that he couldn’t get his work done because of all the pressure from high level officials’ people who were calling to make sure my case was given the proper attention; even the Interpol was already involved in my case.”
Moshe Benedek is 53 years old and was born in Sao Paulo. He grew up in the Jardins neighborhood, home to one of the main Jewish communities in the city. As a youth, he learned in Ner Yisroel in Baltimore followed by a stint in a yeshivah in Yerushalayim. After getting married, he and his wife lived in Eretz Yisrael for a while before eventually moving to Brazil for parnasah reasons, where he established his company, “Sestini,” specializing in luggage and bags for the Brazilian market. A little over a decade ago, he and his family moved back to Eretz Yisrael and settled in the community of Yad Binyamin, a religious community in the center south of the country.
“As our children got older, we decided that we had to move back to Israel for the sake of their chinuch, and because we believed that a Jew’s place is in Eretz Yisrael,” he explains. “But because most of my business dealings were still in Brazil, the plan was that I would travel back and forth every few weeks to keep tabs on things. I rented an apartment in Sao Paulo to stay during my visits.”
On the morning of Thursday, July 22, Moshe set out for his office in the suburb of Guarulhos, but not before making up with his daughter—who had accompanied him on this trip—that they would meet for dinner. At two o’clock in the afternoon he left the office to run some errands, keeping to his routine.
“I drive a very plain car in Brazil, making sure to always keep a low profile,” he explains. “Other people use armored cars out of concern about kidnappings, and some even hire bodyguards to protect them, but that wasn’t what I did. I just did my best not to stand out and attract attention. My apartment is in a relatively safe neighborhood, and I never travel to dubious places. I had no reason to think that anyone knew who I was or would be interested in following me around.”
The first thing Moshe did was drive to a gas station to fill his tank, after which he returned to his car. A few minutes later, he got stuck in traffic.
“I was sitting behind the wheel when all of a sudden I felt a terrible pain. I’d been hit on the head with the butt of a gun. I don’t really know what happened next because it’s all been wiped clean from my memory. All I remember is that I found myself in the back seat with a gun pressed into the back of my neck. There were four thugs in the car, two in the front and two in the back. They were very intimidating and ordered me to keep my head down and not look at them. When I bent over to rest my head on my knees, that’s when I realized that my face was covered with blood. It was running down all over my clothes but I had no idea how badly I was hurt. The only thing I could do was wait and see what they were planning on doing, and try to stay as calm as possible.”
The kidnappers drove Moshe to a rundown part of town, where they got out of the car and were replaced by other men, who blindfolded him and took all his belongings.