Mekor Chaim is the Yeshiva High School that two of the murdered young men (Naftali and Gilad) were attending. Boys who attend Mekor Chaim are nicknamed “mekochnikim”. If I were to try to define the term mekochnik, I would say that it is a modern version of a unique combination of the best of the Chassidic/spiritual tradition together with the highest levels of intense Talmud studies with an open-minded and out-of-the-box emphasis on Middot. Mekor Chaim attracts a certain type of boy. In that respect it could be said that it is an elitist Yeshiva, not in the snobbish meaning but rather in the uniqueness meaning. To some they seem weird or nerdish, and that might be true in some sense. But to me, they represent one of the finest expressions of authentic creative renaissance orthodoxy that our generation has produced.
We are a mekochnik family. Two of our sons attended Mekor Chaim. Yonadav, the older of the two is now an officer in one of the IDF elite units. Last week, he was busy searching the area for the “missing” mekochnik boys. Our younger son Katriel is two years older than Naftali and Gilad and a couple of days after the abduction/murder went to visit the Mekor Chaim Yeshiva to spend some time there to support and be supported. In addition, our son-in-law Yacov is the social worker for a special needs class in the 11th grade of Mekor Chaim, the same grade that Naftali and Gilad studied in. My wife Michal and I share a close and special relationship with Rav Adin Steinsaltz, the Head and founder of the Mekor Chaim Institutions. In fact, he was the officiating Rabbi at Yonadav’s wedding a couple of weeks before Pesach this year. And of course, as parents of two of his graduates, we know Rav Dov Singer, the Rosh Yeshiva of Mekor Chaim very well.
Our boys would hitch rides from the same bus-stop that Naftali, Gilad and Eyal were abducted/murdered. Our two girls studied in Ulpanat Neve Chana which is just up the road from the same bus-stop where they too would hitch rides. So for my family, the abduction/murder that we have all been following over the last three weeks carried with it a sharp, closer-to-home feeling than for most.
In particular, the last three days were an emotional roller coaster for all of us. On Sunday night we went to the solidarity rally in Kikar Rabin. On Monday night we learned the bitter truth. On Tuesday night we attended the funeral.
Listening to Rav Dov eulogize was one of those authentic Mekochnik experiences. Rav Dov speaks with a rare combination of the ability to deliver a powerful spiritual message and genuine humility. Among other things, he spoke of the unique sides of the boys’ personalities, and with sweet chutzpah asked the tens of thousands of people attending to repeat after him the ARI’s formulation, הנני מקבל על עצמי את קיום מצות העשה של ואהבת לרעך כמוך – loosely translated as: I hereby take upon myself the fulfillment of the mitzvah of “Love your neighbor as oneself”.
After the actual burial attended only by close members of the family, we were allowed to enter the cemetery. As we walked towards the cemetery gates, we spotted Rav Dov standing on the side. We went up to him and first me and then our son Katriel embraced him to provide and receive strength. Michal said to him: “It must be so hard for you. You need to be so strong. You are the father of so many here”. At which point his red eyed filled with tears and he began to tremble… We stood in awe at the sweetness and humanity of the individual that epitomizes the Mekochnik experience.
Our first stop was to visit my late brother Rabbi Mordechai Fachler’s grave who through fate was also buried in the Modi’in cemetery some three and half years ago. Sitting next to him, with tears running down my cheeks, I whispered to him how he would enjoy the saintly company of the three new members of his community. From the new part of the cemetery some 15 meters away and above us, we could hear the Mekochnikim singing from the freshly covered graves of the three boys. We walked up to join them, and there sitting and standing in a circle, right next to the new graves, the sweet Mekochnik voices filled the night with their tearful but powerful song. אבינו מלכינו, אבינו מלכינו, אין לנו מלך – אלא אתה – Our father our King, we have no King besides You…..” Click here to see the video I took
Walking back on the long trek back to the car, we realized how refreshingly absent the usual political mumbo-jumbo was from the whole event. Instead, since over the last three weeks photographs and videos of all three were shown on TV news programs, TV cameras went into the Mekor Chaim Bet Midrash, and the whole country heard Rav Dov interviewed on TV radio and at the funeral, we realized that at least for a few days, or a few hours, the whole country was exposed to, and for a while became – mekochnikim…
A final thought: As we sang and listened to the words of Avinu Malkenu, I pondered the meaning if this statement. It allowed me to restate my take on Hashgacha – Divine providence: All things that happen in life, from the mundane to the joyful and to the tragic, are opportunities that are presented to us. How we respond to these opportunities is totally up to us. The families of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad decided to respond in a very particular and noble manner. They decided to take their personal anguish and tragedy and leverage it into a quest, to become a catalyst for creating new levels of unity and love among all of Am Yisrael. I believe that this isn’t the end of their quest. In fact, I believe it has only just started. So let’s begin: הנני מקבל על עצמי את קיום מצות העשה של ואהבת לרעך כמוך – I hereby take upon myself the fulfillment of the mitzvah of “Love your neighbor as oneself”…..