Arriving in Israel several years ago, Rabbi Avi Weiss stepped out of his sherut (shared taxi) on an Efrat sidewalk to walk to the apartment of his daughter, Elana, who lives in the West Bank.
Down the road he saw a group of armed men in army uniforms patrolling the streets, a common security practice in the area.
One of the men recognized Rabbi Weiss, the longtime activist and spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. Ari Fuld, a native of Hillcrest, Queens, who had made aliyah in 1992 and known the rabbi for several years, ran up to him and hugged him.
“As soon as he saw me we embraced,” Rabbi Weiss said. “I embraced all the soldiers, breaking out in song and dance.”
That combination of militancy (serving in the Israeli Army) and warmth (openly showing affection) characterized Mr. Fuld, 45, who was killed on Sept. 16 when a terrorist stabbed him near Efrat, said Rabbi Weiss, who flew to Israel to sit shiva with Mr. Fuld’s family.
“He was an extraordinary young man … he had great humility,” said the rabbi, whose son Dov had attended the Yeshiva University High School for Boys with Mr. Fuld nearly three decades ago. “He had an unconditional love of Israel, love of his people.”
Mr. Fuld, a father of four, was fatally stabbed at a West Bank shopping mall by Khalil Jabarin, a 17-year-old Palestinian.
A dual U.S. and Israeli citizen, Mr. Fuld chased his assailant and shot him before falling to the ground; he was declared dead at a Jerusalem hospital after resuscitation efforts failed.
Reports that he “went down fighting” were incorrect,” Rabbi Weiss said in a telephone interview from Israel, before he returned to New York City for Yom Kippur. “I said, ‘No, he went up fighting.’ Had he not hit the assailant, [the assailant] could have killed other people.”
Mr. Fuld, who had a wrestler’s bear-like physique and usually a few days’ growth of beard, was praised this week by other leaders of the U.S. Jewish community as well.
“He was never afraid to speak his mind — ever,” said Rabbi Benjamin Krauss, principal of the SAR Academy in Riverdale. “He was not afraid to go against the tide.”
“Ari’s heroic response to capture the terrorist before succumbing to his wounds was emblematic of the courageous approach he took to his life, defending the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University.
Mark Bane, president of the Orthodox Union, and OU executive vice president, Allen Fagin, in a statement called Mr. Fuld “a proud Jew who was deeply committed to Torah and an impassioned advocate of Eretz Yisrael.” And Dr. Joseph Frager, first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, called Mr. Fuld “an American and Israeli hero and patriot.”
Thousands of Israelis, including several lawmakers and government ministers, attended Mr. Fuld’s late Sunday night funeral.
“I met with the wonderful parents and brothers of the great Israeli hero Ari Fuld z”l. I hugged them in the name of the entire nation in this time of terrible grief. We are alive thanks to heroes like Ari. We will remember him forever,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted on Sunday before the funeral.
“I don’t know how I will go on without you,” said his widow, Miriam, at the funeral. “We were born 24 hours apart from one another. We didn’t know it would end like this. You fought for what you believed in. I promise to take care of the children. Your job is to look after us from above.
“You were always running towards danger instead of away from it and you never backed down from a fight because you knew you were in the right,” she said. “You fought for what you believed in. You’ve left behind a legacy for the entire world to savor, videos and stories that we will be telling for many years to come.”
The funeral at the cemetery in the Kfar Etzion settlement lasted for more than four hours, with mourners, many of whom waved Israeli flags during and after the ceremony, returning home in the early hours of the morning. Many called him a “lion of Israel,” a play on his name, which means lion.
Mr. Fuld, who worked for Standing Together, a non-governmental organization that provides support for Israeli soldiers, was well known for his social media posts defending Israel and its military. He was scheduled to leave in the coming weeks on a speaking tour in the U.S., and reportedly was about to launch a new Israel advocacy website in English.
“Israel lost a great hero today but not really. We didn’t lose him. He’s just been moved to a new position. Maybe you could say he’s been promoted. He’s now a Guardian. He was always one who guarded Israel, now he watches over us from above,” Paula R. Stern, an Israeli blogger, wrote in a post on Facebook.
Former Knesset member Dov Lipman wrote in an appreciation piece in the Jerusalem Post: “Ari and I had our disagreements, and he would argue his points with firmness, clarity and strength. He believed that he had to convince me to change my mind, and did not want to finish the debate with a ‘let’s agree to disagree.’ In certain cases, he believed that my stance was dangerous for the state and people of Israel, and he would continue pressing to win me over – Ari would not let me get away without answering his pointed and poignant questions.”
Israeli soldiers on Monday raided the home of Jabarin, 17, in the village of Yatta, near Hebron. The soldiers measured the home in preparation for demolishing it, standard practice for the homes of terrorists who murder Israelis.
The home reportedly is slated for demolition despite the fact that the teen’s parents told Palestinian and Israeli security forces about their son’s plans to commit a terror attack.
Haaretz cited a source close to the Jabarin family as saying that the teen informed his parents that he planned to carry out an attack at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Deterred by the presence of soldiers near the tomb, he then carried out the attack near Efrat.
A GoFundMe page created for Fuld’s family raised more than $650,000 in its first three days.
Rabbi Weiss, who stayed in Israel less than a day this week, paid a brief visit to his daughter in Efrat before spending the rest of the time at the Fulds’ shiva house. When he arrived in Efrat, he recalled the effusive greeting he had received there from Mr. Fuld years before.
Never again, he thought. “It’s very painful.”
Steve Lipman is a staff writer.