Thinking about Ezra Schwartz

Idan, 10 years old, is my eldest son. We are sitting together now on a bright sunny day at the cafe in Bavli, the neighborhood in Tel Aviv where we are living this year. We are thinking about Ezra Schwartz, an American 18 year old spending his gap year in Israel who was gunned down with two other people by a terrorist yesterday afternoon as he rode on a bus to a volunteer project. Idan’s going to talk and I’ll write:

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Last summer, Idan spent a few weeks at Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire. It was Idan’s first time at Yavneh. He did not know anyone before he went. Ezra was one of Idan’s counselors.

Idan remembers that when he got to the bunk for the first time Ezra was there. Ezra was so happy, like really happy. He gave Idan the feeling that he was at Yavneh for no other reason — not money, not boredom —  only because he loved it. He told Idan that he had been going to Yavneh since he was Idan’s age. He said it was the best place he had ever been.

Idan was homesick at first. Ezra told him that he would like camp after the first week. And that turned out to be true. In fact, Idan said he had the option to leave camp after the first Shabbat — Idan had talked to the camp director — but he decided not to.

Some nights, before the bunk went to sleep,  Ezra would tell stories, like really awesome stories. One story — Ezra swore it was true — was about a time when Ezra was a camper at Yavneh.  Ezra’s bunk had a cozy lounge attached to it with couches and a rug. One night, Ezra and his friends were banging on the rug with their feet when they felt the floor underneath collapse. They lifted up the rug and saw a ladder leading to a crawl space. They climbed down the ladder and discovered a tunnel, like a really long tunnel, that went all the way to the other side of the lake. They went swimming in the lake. Of course, no counselors were there.

Ezra said the cabin with the tunnel was later replaced by a new cabin. When Ezra went back a few years later to check if he could find the tunnel under the new cabin, he couldn’t.

There was a second part to the story. The summer they discovered the tunnel, Ezra and his friends went down a second time to explore. Ezra told this second part on Tisha B’Av night. Idan was at a longer prayer service and missed the story. So Idan doesn’t know what happened. Idan realizes now he’s not going to be able to find out from Ezra. That’s crazy. Just crazy.

The night before camp ended, Idan was sick. He was nauseous, like really nauseous. He was throwing up a lot. Ezra took him to the “Marp” which, short for the Hebrew word Marpa’ah, is the health clinic at camp. Idan had to spend all night and all of the following day there and Ezra stayed there with him. He kept Idan company. That was really nice of him, especially because there were so many exciting things happening at camp.

Idan can’t believe that Ezra is dead. Ezra is the closest person to him that’s ever been murdered.

Idan doesn’t know what to say to Ezra’s family. He thought of “feel better,” but they’re not sick. He doesn’t know. He’s not a psychologist. Maybe they can sue the government? I should know how that works, I’m the lawyer.

Idan hopes that President Obama takes this seriously, even though it happened on the other side of the Green Line, which the UN considers a different country. It happened in Area C. Area C is supposed to be Israel, right? Idan says he’s pointing out facts, but then he pauses and says they’re irrelevant. Why was an American kid murdered anyway? Who cares where he was? That’s just wrong. Period.

Idan thinks that eventually this will stop. It’s not going to keep happening. It just can’t.

About the Author
Shelley Klein is spending this year in Tel Aviv with her family. She recently completed her tenure as Executive Director of Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE) in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In prior years, she was the National Director of Programs for Hadassah. Shelley received a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a BA in Politics from Brandeis University. Shelley’s permanent home is in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.