The past 36 hours have been a malevolent whirlpool, for Israel, for the Anglo community in general, and for us, the people who knew that invincible mountain of a man, Ari Fuld Z”L, HY”D.
36 hours. From seeing his name on the Ynet feed, after hearing about another attack, and knowing that it must be a mistake because of all people, Ari was the last one anyone could imagine being stabbed – who in their right mind would start up with that incredibly strong fighting machine who had taught all of us how to defend ourselves? Whose very walk and way he carried himself seemed to say “Pick on someone your own size…Come on…make my day…”
It must have been a mistake, right?
To seeing his picture and slowly the numbness of disbelief crept in, it was him, but how? How?
To seeing that awful video and understanding, realizing that only Ari would have the ability and pure life force to do what he did as he was dying, and find the strength to chase down and eliminate his murderer. Realizing that, as a Jewish educator, I will in the future teach those moments, in the same way as I teach about Michael Levin, or Chana Senesh, or Roi Klein, or Alex Singer: the unique pantheon of legendary Israeli heroes who died imparting a message has a new member.
To the growing reactions of similar incredulity on the social media that Ari excelled at.
To before the funeral, where thousands sang spontaneously for 45 minutes while waiting for Ari’s body to gradually make its way through the crowds – a victim of his own popularity. No-one who was there will ever forget that uplifting singing.
To the hespedim (speeches), each causing the tears to flow and the feeling of pride to surge. The overcrowded room was hot and stuffy, yet no-one left, and when arriving home at 3 am sleep simply evaded us when it should have been instantaneous.
To the day after where the numbness was still there – did it really happen? In the words of Rachel the Poetess, “Did it happen (Were you there) or did I dream a dream?” – did that awful day actually happen? Or was it now a normal Monday morning?
To the Fuld shiva house, where the wounds are so raw and the pain so obvious on all of the faces.
And finally, to the quiet. The pre-Yom Kippur quiet, the day where reflection is the order and essence of what we do.
Ari, my friend and teacher, this Yom Kippur I am reflecting and imbuing myself with you and your messages, of passion, love for this country, and bitachon in Hashem. I feel so lucky that I knew you and got to learn from you. You taught me so much in so many ways, everything you did was with a depth of passion that I yearned to emulate. Sure, the years went by and we drifted apart, but our Golani infantry background, love of Israel and advocating for Israel, and mostly our Tora Dojo martial arts connection kept us friends – my first lesson was your brown belt test, and seeing that show of mastery hooked me, and years of lessons, training, and workouts later, I am still hooked.
I want to share a story that, for me, personified Ari. So many have written their thoughts, so if this is another piece in the mosaic so others in the future can get an inkling as to who this man was, so much the better.
In the spate of stabbings in 2015, Ari, a fourth degree black belt in Tora Dojo – only a dozen or so masters have reached that rank – organized many self-defense classes designed to protect against stabbings. I was asked by the religious women where I was living, in Homat Shmuel/Har Homa, to give such a session, and with my background in the martial arts, I readily agreed. After preparing what I would say and do, I called my Sensei and then called Ari to go over it with him as well, particularly because, being a religious man, he would be naturally sensitive to the style I should use to teach the class. So he gave me tips and helped me organize and decide what to teach, how to teach it, how to demonstrate a technique while respecting personal space for the women, and so on.
Finally before wishing me good luck and asking me to call afterwards and tell him how it went, he added an “Ari Speech” – that being the only possible term to use – that went something like this – try as I might, I cannot remember it word for word:
“Betsalel, firstly, don’t forget to start with some words of Torah. You are a Jewish educator! Secondly, let them know that martial arts is a way of life, like Torah is, and not just a way to get out of a situation. Thirdly, they should up their awareness in general – constantly be aware of their surroundings and anticipate trouble if they can. Fourthly, let them know that if chas veshalom they are attacked, that Hashem is on our side, and that with some serious practice they can get out of it.”
Here he paused, and I remember his voice hardened. “And finally, don’t tell them this, but know that if they are attacked their chances of getting out are tiny. Miniscule! For a trained martial artist, the chances are not that high either, but for them no matter how much they practice, it is tiny, it takes a split second to stab someone. But don’t tell them! If you tell them that it would take away their self-confidence – let them believe they can! Not arrogance, but self-confidence – make them believe in themselves! Self-confidence is an amazing thing, and when you mix in fear and adrenaline, you can do anything: you can do physical things you can never do normally, you can jump higher and run faster and react quicker, and maybe – just maybe – they will be able to get out alive. Make sure they leave your class believing in themselves!”
We all saw that so clearly recently. In the aftermath, 36 hours later, that’s the advice that I am now taking: Despite everything, self-confidence. Belief in ourselves, that our path is true, to continue, to move on, to carry on his message and to reach greater heights.
Ari, my friend, you were a giant in life and you will be much, much larger in death.
Thank you, we will miss you, and yehi zichrecha baruch.