In recent days it seems the entire world has heard of Ezra Schwartz (“What Ezra Schwartz Taught Us,” Nov. 27). We’ve learned about his amazing passion for Torah, for chesed, and of his great love of Israel.
There have been so many meaningful tributes around the world in Ezra’s memory, and the outpouring of love continues. At Yeshivat Ashreinu, where he was spending his post-high school “gap year” in Israel, our family has suffered a tremendous personal loss. Ezra was in many ways the absolute epitome of what we strive for in an Ashreinu student.
When Ashreinu opened its doors four years ago, our stated goal was to fill the need for a yeshiva environment that offered “learning plus.” There are so many young men looking for a balanced learning and experiential combination: Study of Torah, doing acts of kindness (giving back to the community) and connecting deeply to the land of Israel. Ashreinu has a unique schedule: the boys learn every morning and evening, go on a weekly all-day trip, and spend their afternoons doing chesed internships within the broader Israeli community. This program allows us to gently guide these young men as they travel along the path toward fulfilling their full potential.
Ezra chose our yeshiva because he felt so connected to each of the three pillars of Judaism our school embodies:
n Torah, where he dedicated his time to learning Tanach [Hebrew Bible] and Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers]. On the day he was murdered he expressed his excitement at having made a commitment to complete all of Tanach during his year here.
n Israel: Ezra loved going on the weekly tiyulim (trips), seeing and connecting to the land.
n Chesed: Ezra’s chesed schedule included playing basketball with local underprivileged children on Sundays, volunteering for the Israel Cancer Association on Wednesdays, and volunteering every Thursday at Oz V’Gaon, a memorial educational nature reserve being built in honor of the three young Israelis kidnapped and murdered in June 2014. By combining all of these activities, Ezra was creating his own meaningful and life-changing gap year experience.
One special trait of Ezra’s, mentioned often in the eulogies, was that he was an incredibly dedicated brother and son. He was a constant source of support and friendship to his siblings, and his love and fun nature were infectious. As a son he clearly had so much respect for his parents, a trait that in many ways carried over to his relationship with the rabbis at Ashreinu.
Perhaps Ezra’s greatest legacy that we can learn from relates to his devotion to the axiom of derech eretz kadma l’Torah (interacting well with people takes precedence to all). Do we spend enough time with our siblings? How often do we call our parents and tell them we love them? Ezra exemplified this incredible quality. His focus on being a dedicated and loving human being is something we should all learn and gain from, and incorporate into our own lives.
May his memory be a blessing.
Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivat Ashreinu, Beit Shemesh, Israel