“Israel is acquired through painful sacrifice.” On several occasions, Rabbi Yonah Fuld, father of Ari who was murdered a day earlier, said these words as he sat shiva this week in Efrat. He went on: “Until now I’ve never experienced this reality…now I understand.”
Together with Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, principal of the SAR Academy (where Rabbi Fuld had previously served), and Rabbi Benjamin Yudin, rabbi of Shomrei Torah in Fairlawn and his wife, Shevi, we flew to Israel for a few hours early this week to offer comfort to the Fuld family.
We took turns sitting near Yonah and Mary, the grieving father and mother. Miriam, Ari’s wife, sat nearby. Ari’s brothers and the extended family spread about the small apartment in Efrat, spilling over into the courtyard, where Ari’s children sat, surrounded by friends.
And they came. Never in all my years have I seen more people at a shiva. Throngs arrived nonstop. Yonah, one of the most sociable, friendly connectors I have ever known, today sat quietly. Over and over he said “thank you” to those offering condolences. At times, his eyes watered, and he sobbed. “As close as I was to Ari,” he remarked, “I’ve come to know Ari in death a way I did not know him in life.”
Many shared how Ari had touched their lives. The thousands who came were a tribute to the influence that Ari had, both locally and globally. An email arrived notifying the family that a Ukrainian child had just been named Ari at his brit milah. I’m sure it will be the first of many.
A woman arrived who shared that she served pizza to the terrorist just a few moments before he attacked. The terrorist had asked her whether she spoke English. She responded she did not. Sitting nearby in the shop were four young women. Leaving them alone, he proceeded outside. When seeing Ari, he pounced, seemingly targeting someone who looked American.
This heinous act has touched the soul of Israel. Not only its prime minister – who visited the family soon after the murder and remained for an hour – but it has touched amcha. People came from as far north as Tzfat, a busload of high school students arrived from a yeshiva in Sderot, a town that itself has been under constant attack.
They came from the political right and left. Amongst them, Tzipi Livni, head of the Labor Party. A renowned singer and former student of Rabbi Fuld was amongst the first to arrive, embracing the family, overflowing with emotion and love.
Grief is no time for politics. But the picture of the smiling terrorist, hailed as a hero by Hezbollah and Hamas, and whose family will be supported by the Palestinian Authority for his “heroic” acts, will live in infamy.
Ari was murdered three days before Yom Kippur. With love and respect, all of Israel will beseech God, reminding God of the divine promise to Moses, a promise repeated over and over in Yom Kippur Service – the Lord, the Lord, is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and suffused with compassion.
Some at the shiva house remarked that Ari had gone down fighting. After watching the surveillance video, the reverse could be suggested. Ari did not go down – he rose up. His instincts kicked in.
Most mortally wounded would fall to the ground. Not Ari. In the video one can see him, while bleeding, pursuing the terrorist, jumping over a low flower bed. And then, positioning himself, aiming his pistol and shooting, saving many lives.
Some believe that Ari’s last burst of courage may have precipitated the loss of more blood. Rushed to Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, he had lost too much blood. He was gone.
His brothers remarked that Ari lived as a gibor (hero) and died as a gibor. As we usher in the new year, may we, too, rise up in gvurah, in strength, and bring honor and glory to Israel and all of humankind.
Rabbi Avi Weiss is rabbi-in-residence at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.