It’s been four weeks since our beloved Ari Fuld H”YD has been taken from us. Should we be in any way surprised that in a mere four weeks’ time Ari has become a global icon of world Jewry and Zionism? No. To many of us, he forged this role years ago.
I was a friend of Ari’s. That is to say, I was an ardent Facebook follower, which lead to conversations, then building a friendship and to hosting Ari in my home for a Standing Together event eight short months ago. Many knew him far better than I, others through social media, a lecture, a tour, but we share something in common. Those that knew him, listened to him, learned from him loved him. And Ari made himself easy to love.
Nearly every day Ari open a window into his life for all to see, enjoy and learn from his seemingly sleepless, tireless life. Whether 2 am on a Thursday night at the Kotel, Friday Grill & Torah, dinner at Harvey’s Smokehouse, exploring Israel, or confronting Neturei Karta outside an IDF enlistment office, or so very much more, Ari shared his experiences with us. And what a character (in the absolute best sense of the term) he was. How truly fortunate are we that he left a legacy on Facebook that we can literally spend weeks watching?
Long before Ari was taken from us he was a hero, a gibor, a giant. He accomplished what so many of us have on our checklists, on our back-burners, although we keep kicking the can. He didn’t. Ari made aliya. (For many of you, box checked, for others, we find ourselves trapped in the mire of the how’s.) He served with distinction in the IDF and miluim. He left a career in the private sector, dedicating his life to making our precious IDF soldier more comfortable. He engaged with people, and they with him. He selflessly helped other without question. Ari unapologetically defended, both in words and action, our homeland that he so dearly cherished. He was the shomer, the guardian of Israel that never slumbered. If one was prone to hero worship, who among us better than Ari?
I join with people around the world, not only mourning with the Fuld family, but extending a heartfelt appreciation for their generosity in sharing Ari with us.
Thirty days have passed and I see Ari everywhere. Allusions to Ari at every turn. An Israel flag shouts “Lion of Zion.” I look at this week’s Torah potion – Lech Lecha, and the first few pesukim speak of Ari Fuld. To paraphrase, “Go from your father’s house to the land I will show you [Israel]. And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great, and you will be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you . . .” How is this passuk not speaking of Ari and the beautiful, special Fuld family? Later in the passuk Hashem tells Abraham not to fear, “I am a shield for you; your reward is very great.” Hashem was Abraham’s shield. He did not need to worry. Ari, and our brave soldiers of the IDF, are our shield, our “Magen Avraham.” (We say Magen Avraham 3 times a day in the Amida. I was curious as to the history and genesis of this phraseology, so I did what most inquisitive baali t’shuva do – I Googled the term. Apparently it’s a necklace peddled by a kabalistic organization for $150.) As an enormously proud father of two children learning in Israel, I am comforted by and eternally grateful for the protection provided to my children, family and friends in Israel by the IDF. Our magen, our shield of protection, was damaged last month, but it will be restored.
My family and I were fortunate to be in Israel last month for the holidays. In all my years I do not recall a Yom Kippur so full of tears – tears that flowed endlessly like streams from our souls. How could our Ari be taken from us? Yom Kippur was a Thursday. Ari was murdered on Sunday. Four days later. It was still so raw, so new. Maybe through the jetlag and working crazy hours remotely I had imagined it. I hoped that was the case, waking up hourly, only to realize that reality can sometimes be unforgiving and callous.
Yom Kippur ended and we went to a memorial for Ari. We sang and cried with his friends and family. Listening to stories from those close to him helped me come to terms with the new reality, a life without Ari Fuld.
Ari was so larger than life, fearless and bold, made such an indelible impression, and moreover, served as a role model in innumerable ways, that to do nothing, was not an option. So, for starters, I created a Facebook page, “In Memory of Ari Fuld HYD.” To some, a simple task. For me, a day’s undertaking, but a labor of love. I also endeavored to have all of Mishnayot completed prior to today (Ari’s shloshim), but I repeatedly circulated an incorrect link. (I just mastered the ATM machine after 3 decades. Social media may take a little time.) A few people managed to find the correct location on shloshim.org, including members of Ari’s family. We are taught that learning Mishna in memory of a departed is an honor for the departed soul, and the Hebrew word “Mishna” has the same letters as “neshama” (soul), making the learning of Mishna for a lost loved one that much more appropriate.
I chose to learn Mishna Challah – for no other reason than I had a volume of Mishnah at home that included Challah. Lacking a yeshiva background, but wanting to learn in Hebrew and English, learning a Mishna is a bit more challenging for me than creating a Facebook page, but I completed it. I completed it for a few reasons – of course in the merit that my learning should in some manner benefit Ari’s beautiful neshamah, to form a connection with others learning for Ari, but most importantly to create a special Torah bond with Ari. Now when I hear something addressed in Mishnah Challah, I think of Ari. And since my precious wife bakes challah (and performs the mitzvah of taking challah and saying the bracha nearly every week), Ari is never far from our kitchen.
Ari was a rock star, in so many ways – revealed and unrevealed. He left a tremendous void, but I am comforted to see how people are stepping up to the plate to fill this void. My Facebook feed is alive with friends, old and new, sharing their stories, travelling throughout Israel and opening their windows to us. New projects are being undertaken in Ari’s name. Honors bestowed. Babies being named Ari (even a new cousin, beautiful baby Ari Zion Fuld – may he only know peace and serenity in his lifetime). Ari was an icon, a gibor, and he earned, so dearly, with his last breath, every accolade, tribute and honor that we can bestow upon him. And now the baton has been passed to us. What will we do to carry on his prodigious legacy?