The term levaya, which we use to describe a funeral service, means to accompany. At Ben Gurion Airport Saturday night, hundreds gathered to accompany Ezra Schwartz Hy”d to the flight that would bring him back to Boston and to his burial. Though the gathering was not publicized and was intended for those who knew Ezra and his family, with the permission of the yeshiva, I attended to show support and love to our Boca Raton students on the Ashreinu program that Ezra was participating in, particularly to a precious member of our shul who was in the van when it was brutally attacked.
I feel compelled to share a few thoughts about what was one of the most meaningful and powerful experiences in my life. As the crowd gathered, Ezra’s fellow classmates at Ashreinu and their Rebbeim stood in a large circle, some draped in Israeli flags, swaying back and forth with their arms around one another singing song after song. The songs were of course not about revenge, anger or violence, but were about emunah — faith, longing for peace, and love of Torah and Eretz Yisroel.
Eighteen-year-old American students are normally carefree, living with little pressure and enjoying a gap year learning, discovering themselves and exploring the beauty of our homeland. This special group of boys has learned a harsh and cruel lesson that is not intentionally part of any curriculum and that we wish and pray is never learned again. Their pure, innocent classmate and friend was murdered for no other reason than being a Jew. As tears flowed down their cheeks, the final song they sang before the short memorial began was Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah.
The first speaker was the heroic refusenik and Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky. He described that when he spoke to Ezra’s father, Dr. Schwartz, who had just suffered the unimaginable murder of his son, shared his memory of marching on behalf of Soviet Jewry as a student in Ramaz. Mr. Sharansky observed that this terrible loss is a link in the chain of Jewish History that includes the story of Soviety Jewry and now the story of our continued fight to live in peace in our homeland. Ezra is a martyr, one of the kedoshim of which Jewish history is made up. But we are also living Jewish destiny, he said, and part of our response must be to fortify and strengthen our conviction to our homeland and to our people.
His words resonated deeply for me, not just because of their significance, but because I was standing next to Ofir Shaer, the father of Gil-ad Hy”d, who was kidnapped and murdered over a year ago. He came to show respect, to honor Ezra z”l, and to give chizuk — encouragement, by his presence. He is one of too many parents who have experienced the incomprehensible murder of their children. This must stop, it must end!
Ezra’s uncle spoke about his incredible eyes, his smile that could light up a room, his sense of humor, his athleticism and his larger than life personality. He read a letter from Ezra’s father, in which he thanked everyone for their help and for this gathering, and spoke about Ezra, but which also said something absolutely incredible. He said that he doesn’t regret sending Ezra to Israel and knows that sending him to learn and grow and be part of the people of Israel was the right thing.
Rabbi Yudin, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ashreinu spoke passionately about Ezra and described that Ezra had made a pledge the morning of his murder to complete the study of Tanach this year. Though he was exhausted and thought about staying back on Thursday, Ezra was determined to participate in the chesed outing that day and so he went with the intention to sleep in the van. He never fully awoke again as he was murdered while on the very way to participate in chesed, an act of loving-kindness.
Rabbi Yudin stressed that the best way to honor Ezra’s memory and our greatest response to both the terrorists who took his life and those that are determined to drive us from our land, is to come to Israel and do the learning and the chesed that Ezra will not be able to complete.
I am currently in Israel for my nephew’s bar mitzvah and to visit with our students who are studying here, but also to see a few seminaries with my 12th grade daughter who will be coming next year. I know that there are parents who have thought about bringing their children home due to this latest wave of terror. I also know that after Thursday, there are parents wavering about signing their children up to come study here next year. God forbid, we should never judge anyone for their personal decisions based on their own calculations and considerations. Everyone has to do what they feel comfortable with and what they could live with.
However, as a parent in that same circumstance, I must tell you why I don’t hesitate for one moment from encouraging my daughter to come next year and why I feel energized by the fact that we will visit schools together tomorrow. The gift and the blessing of the modern State of Israel and the miracles that enabled us to have it are not for our brothers and sisters that live here alone. Israel is the homeland and the responsibility of the Jewish people, wherever we live in the world. It is not simply a place to visit when times are good, or a place to spend Sukkos or vacation when there is calm.
We, and our children, don’t bear the burden of protecting Israel and by extension Jews around the world that know they can turn to Israel for refuge. We delegate that awesome responsibility to our family in Israel who courageously and faithfully serve in the IDF. They risk their lives on the front line of ensuring the safety and continuity of our people and our nation. Our minor role, the small part that we play, is to make sure that they never feel they are doing it alone or that they are abandoned.
If we stop coming to Israel, if we stop sending our children to study here, not only do the terrorists earn a victory, but we have spit in the face of our very family members who have take upon themselves the lion’s share of forging our destiny.
My dear family, we have learned that when evil and wicked men and women are bent on murdering innocent people, it doesn’t matter if you are in the Twin Towers, the streets of Paris, Tel Aviv or Yerushalayim.
Of course we must act prudently and be vigilant and careful about where we go and how we travel, in Israel and around the world. But, we must absolutely not stop coming and sending our children. If you shed a tear over the recent murders, if you have cried out over the plight of what is happening in Israel, if you want those living in Israel to know how much you care, it is simply not enough to post on Facebook, talk about it at your Shabbos table or even open a Tehillim alone.
If you truly care, and you have the resources to make it happen, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to immediately schedule a trip to Israel. Come to visit family, come to tour, come to shop or come for no reason at all other than to make a statement to those that terrorize us that we will not be scared away and those that we love that we will not abandon them and leave them alone.
Come to learn a perek of Tanach or volunteer for the act of chesed that Ezra Schwartz can no longer do. Come to Israel, you will not regret it.
I shared a version of these words with my Boca Raton Synagogue family upon returning from the moving funeral of Ezra Schwartz z’l