By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
I really wanted to write about something else this week. But I just can’t ignore the unrelenting attacks happening in Israel. Just last week, a Palestinian terrorist murdered Ezra Schwartz, a sweet-looking Bostonian boy just 18 years old, while he was delivering food to soldiers. He was studying in yeshiva—I wouldn’t be far off to guess that he was learning about morality there, as the very act he was performing while he was murdered was one of chessed (loving-kindness). Just the day before he was killed, Ezra sent an email to the national director of the Israel Association of Baseball, asking to play in the association’s spring league.
To be completely honest, the day I found out about Ezra’s death, I tried to ignore it. Sometimes that’s the way that people cope with the murders and attacks that occur here every day. But it got more and more difficult to ignore—the kid was from a suburb of Boston that I’ve visited in the past few years. He grew up in Boston, a city that I love—a city where many of my friends grew up. The high school from which he just graduated was familiar—a friend of mine just wore her sweatshirt today that had the name “Maimonides” written on the front.
Posts continued to show up on my Facebook newsfeed about Ezra, some from friends who knew him personally. It became impossible for me to ignore.
One video I found showed all of his friends gathered at Ben Gurion International Airport, huddled around his coffin that was to be sent to America to be buried. The many yeshiva boys and his supporters sang Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah” (The Hope) and cried over Ezra’s body as he left Israel for the very last time.
A Times of Israel article by Sally Abrams describes the event so perfectly. She writes, “Every parent who has ever waved goodbye to a child heading to Israel has the same worry in the back of their mind. But one manages that fear by acknowledging that the odds of American kids on Israel programs becoming victims of terrorism are exceedingly low […] The Schwartzes are now living the nightmare of every parent.”
I can only imagine what my parents are thinking in America right now, given my recent aliyah to Israel. I know they worry. And when this happens to a kid from the U.S., a kid who probably told his parents that he is being safe in Israel, and that nothing will happen, it likely hits close to home for all parents who send their kids off to Israel.
Abrams goes on to say that Ezra looks familiar. Also very true: The other day, I stared at his pictures, sure I had seen him somewhere.
My friend from ulpan who went to Ezra’s high school told me that last night, she watched Ezra’s funeral on a live stream. More than 1,500 mourners attended the funeral in the Boston area. There were so many people that many had to stand outside in the drizzle, under their umbrellas, listening to the broadcast of the service.
While my friend watched the live stream, her friend from home was getting married, so she also watched a wedding on live stream. She had to jump from one emotional event to the next.
Similarly, on Thursday, the entire State of Israel is invited to the wedding of Sara-Techiya Litman and her husband-to-be, Ariel. Palestinian terrorists murdered Sara-Techiya’s father and brother the day before her wedding was to take place. The wedding was postponed only a couple of weeks, and Sara Techiya announced, “All of the nation of Israel is invited to arise from the dust and to happily participate in our happiness.”
My friend’s live-streaming evening and the open wedding both struck me as particularly poetic, as they truly encapsulate the Jewish and Israeli experience—we have such happy events as Jews and Israelis, such joy, but these events are inherently intertwined with the tragedies of fighting for their very preservation.
But Ezra and the Litmans’ deaths are not exactly tragedies. A soldier dying in a war for his country is a tragedy. These deaths are something else. Sally Abrams says in the Times of Israel, “Please do not use the word ‘tragedy’ to describe what happened to Ezra Schwartz. If an 18-year old-contracts cancer, and despite the best efforts of his doctors, he dies, that is a tragedy. If an 18-year-old loses control of his car on an icy road and dies, that is a tragedy. When an 18-year-old is murdered by a savage who believes that Jews don’t deserve to live, that is an atrocity, an abomination. Words are all we have. Let’s use them precisely.”
During Ezra’s funeral, a former teacher described him as someone “who could not be contained.” So let’s make sure that Ezra’s death is also not contained—that we remember him forever, fight for what he believed in, and do everything in our power to make sure that no other family has to even fathom the experience of waiting for their child to return home to them, from Israel, in a casket.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her aliyah column on JNS.org, Facebook, and Instagram.
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