Observing the 30th day (sh’loshim) since the funeral of Ezra Schwartz offers a fitting time for reflection and action in his honor.
During his Shiva a few weeks ago, we had traveled around Israel with our son, Kobi, who was a good friend of Ezra. This brought home a thickening bond between Israeli and North American Jewry. Every Israeli from our waitress to our cab driver knew of Ezra at the very same time when the New England Patriots stood silent Stateside in his memory.
Yet there is a dramatic difference between the focus of each of our communities in response to terror. In America we fascinate on the motivations of the murderers rather than delving into the lives and values of their victims. Yes Israel is smaller and her victims are more intimately familiar. But there is something telling about the notion that I know nothing about the identity of Ezra’s killer. Yes the Nation State of the Jewish People no longer tries to decipher the ‘path to radicalization’ of those who seek to do her harm. Yet even as understanding the path of the wicked can help to make it more crooked, still to explain does little more than make plain. Far preferable for me is Ezra’s father, Ari’s image lovingly evoked at the funeral a month ago. “I want them to think of Ezra with a great big smile on his face, flying through the air on (ski) jumps so big most of us could not imagine people flying so high.”
What our communities in North America and Israel do share is a determination to act in ways that honor those whose lives have been cut short. One way to honor Ezra is to encourage and support gap-year study in Israel in his memory.
Many years ago Israel’s Chief Rabbinate established tomorrow’s 10th of Tevet as theyahrzeit for anyone who perished in the Holocaust whose precise date of death is unknown*. The rabbis were careful to select an established Fast Day remote enough in the calendar from the summer’s Tisha B’Av observance and its accompanying self-criticism (because of our sins we were exiled). The memory of every life should bless.
The news of Ezra’s murder struck at our world like a thunderclap. Our ancestor Jacob in this week’s Torah portion touchingly recalls Rachel’s untimely death by emphasizing his personal responsibility “Rachel died by me” (meitah allai) (Gen. 48:7) to bury her without delay in the very same place where Ezra lost his life a month ago. Let us honor Ezra’s ways as personally as we are comfortable, thus bringing comfort to his mourners and blessing to his memory.
Rabbi William Hamilton
*Special afternoon service Tuesday, December 22 in the Rabb Chapel at 4:00 pm.