My silent reaction to Ezra’s z”l death

I know that I am not alone in sharing that this past week has been especially difficult for me. In addition to the ongoing terror around the world and in Israel, the brutal murder of Ezra Schwartz z”l has hit me hard. I had the privilege of getting to know Ezra both in and out of the classroom during his Middle School years at Maimonides School where I was the Middle School Director.

Since I found out that he was killed, I have primarily found myself at a loss for words. For those that know me, that is not usually the case. While I typically do not take to Facebook or other social media to share my thoughts, I felt compelled in this case to write something. And yet, every time I began to compose a thought, I found myself speechless. Speechless that I could not find any words to express my shock and sadness. Speechless that I was not able to find meaning in his death. Speechless that I was not ready to talk about how Ezra’s life and death are part of the larger destiny and narrative of the Jewish people. Speechless that I could not find words of hope in light of ongoing terror in Israel.

My silent experience was intensified at the funeral. What could I possibly say to my former students, or their parents, who were crying uncontrollably? What could I possibly say to myself? Instead my reaction was a combination of silence, along with crying and hugging them.

I have felt uneasy in my speechlessness until I found validation in an idea expressed in Tehillim by David HaMelech. In Tehillim, ch. 92 known as the מִזְמוֹר שִׁיר לְיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת we recite the following two verses:

טוֹב, לְהֹדוֹת לַה’; וּלְזַמֵּר לְשִׁמְךָ עֶלְיוֹן. לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ; וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ, בַּלֵּילוֹת

This translates as “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD; and to sing praises unto Your name, O Most High; To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness in the night seasons.”

We are being called upon to give thanks to G-d, sing to G-d, and talk about G-d. At face value, the second verse tells us to talk about G-d’s kindness both during the day and at night. However, I believe it is possible to see in these verses an additional layer of meaning. There are four phrases. Of the four phrases, the fourth one stands out. The first three all contain an action on the part of man (to give thanks, to sing, to declare) whereas the fourth (G-d’s faith at night), does not. This disparity invites exploration.

What is different about the fourth and final phrase? I believe that the fourth phrase, וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ, בַּלֵּילוֹת does not include something actionable on the part of man, because in times of tragedy and darkness, i.e., nighttime, we can find ourselves completely paralyzed and immobile. In fact, this phrase refers to אֱמוּנָתְךָ, G-d’s faith, as it were. It is understandable during dark times for our faith to be shaken. This is precisely when we turn to and take solace in G-d’s faith in us, which is particularly poignant when we have our own faith shaken. During those times, many of us are simply not able to talk about G-d, sing about G-d, or thank G-d.

Throughout my silence, I took deep comfort in the words of others, whether in the eulogies at the funeral, reflections posted on the web from around the world, or personal conversations.

This past Monday night, at the beginning of the NFL game between the Patriots and the Bills, the NFL held a moment of silence in memory Ezra. To me, that moment amplified the profound silence that I had been feeling since I had first heard the news. When the powerful moment ended, so did my silence, as I knew it had to. Since Monday night, I have begun to emerge from the silence and find a voice to my feelings and reflections.

Over the past few days, we held assemblies for our middle and high schoolers, during which I spoke about Ezra, shared pictures and memories, and conveyed that silence can be an instrumental part of our faith. The assemblies ended with us singing אחינו כל בית ישראל during which we pray to G-d to have mercy on us and bring our people from darkness to light. We are a resilient people and with the help of G-d, we will get through this darkness and experience the full light of G-d once again. I pray that our collective recitation of the מִזְמוֹר שִׁיר, לְיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת will usher in a יום שכולו שבת speedily in our days.

Ezra z”l, I will miss you

יהי זכרו ברוך. ה’ יקום דמו

About the Author
Rabbi Avi Bossewitch is the Dean of Academic Affairs at Hebrew Academy (RASG) in Miami Beach, FL. He is the former Middle School Director of Maimonides School. His professional interests include Jewish school leadership, school improvement, faculty growth, school-wide professional development, curriculum, and 21st century learning. He and his wife Shuli and their four children live in Miami Beach, FL.
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