Ezra Schwartz z”l had only just arrived at Yeshivat Ashreinu. In fact, it was a mere two months ago when Josh Goldstein, one of three counselors at the Yeshiva, met the new group of guys at Ben Gurion Airport; guys with eager faces, set to spend their gap year immersing themselves in Jewish studies. And, it’s been two days since a terrorist snuffed out the life of this precious young man, returning with his friends to yeshiva after performing a series of good deeds.
Yeshivat Ashreinu, located in the Educational Complex of old Beit Shemesh, afforded Ezra the opportunity to combine Torah studies with volunteering and sightseeing in the Holy Land, connecting trips with lessons in the Tanach. While Ezra’s fellow classmates are still reeling from the shock, the rawness and the sheer pain of losing their friend, Josh sat down to share some thoughts about a very special person who touched the lives of many.
“Ezra taught us, taught me, by example,” says Josh. “It feels messed up to even say the word ‘was’, since he was just here yesterday. It’s rough. I want you to know that he was a very special guy, happy in an uncomplicated way. He understood and appreciated just the fact that he was living, and he did that in a very joyous manner. He taught me by example. He was a guy that seemed to never be upset. He didn’t have one mean bone in his body.”
“I remember the first time he approached me. It was his second or third day in Israel and he didn’t know too many people in the group. He approached me with a smile and a great sincerity, stating that he was relying on this year to create a strong foundation in his Yiddishkeit and to delve deeper into the essence of his faith. I remember the first time we had a chance to sit down for a chat. It was that very first Shabbat and we were sitting on some chairs in the Beit Midrash before Shabbat Dinner. He shared with me that he wanted to make this a positive year where he worked on developing himself and growing in his learning. His goal was to delve deeply into Chumash, to finish the Five Books and Tanach in great depth. He always had a small Stone edition of the Chumash in hand.”
“Everyone is in shock, the guys haven’t fully processed what’s happened. They haven’t ‘landed.’ It’s so hard to believe he is gone. Just two nights ago he was at the Bais Midrash, learning Tanach. He was learning with a friend and he turned to ask me about the pasuk that talks about Yaakov living with Lavan and what it is he should understand from Rashi. Was it a simple Rashi or was this an allusion to something else? I replied that there are different ways of interpreting this pasuk. That the word ‘Gar’ (lived) contains the word “Ger” (stranger). We spoke about one interpretation being that it was that Yakov was a stranger to Lavan’s way of life, to anything that was false. Ezra nodded.”
“After Ezra was murdered, I kept thinking about our conversation and how true it was of Ezra as well. That Ezra was such a good soul and a stranger to falsity. He was so genuine. Another thing about his personality is that he loved to greet everyone with a hug. He was like a koala bear, with a special smile as he hugged both his friends and his counselors. He always tried to make people feel good about themselves. In the morning when the counselors would wake every one up, Ezra, even if he actually intended to sleep in a bit longer, never failed to say good morning to us. He was a sweet and down to earth kind of guy, a huge Patriots fan, and a guy who showed his concern and caring for those around him. During his short time at Ashreinu, he taught us, by example, that there is no point in being upset about things. He never insulted anyone or bore ill feelings and, consequently, no one ever had a reason to be upset with him.”
“In addition to learning, Ezra spent time volunteering. He was always performing good deeds. The night he was murdered, he was enroute to work on a memorial (for the three boys that were murdered last year) and to hand out food to soldiers. This coming Sunday, Ezra would have been teaching basketball to underprivileged kids in Beit Shemesh, like he did every week. He wanted this year to be one of bonding with his new friends, creating strong and everlasting ties. This he accomplished even though he left us too soon. I can’t express how much people will miss his smiling face as he walked around the dorms, doing something only Ezra would do. May we all learn from his unconditional happiness.”