April 20, 2024
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April 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I sit in my dorm room, beneath my covers, feeling safe but oh, so lost. I sit and type for I am not sure of what else to do. It feels almost therapeutic as the slow music plays and the sounds of the keys ring softly. Just a few hours ago I was beginning to formulate thoughts on a short resolute piece regarding the recent tragedies that had befallen our country and a positive message on how now that they were finally fading away it was time to rise in unison, solidarity and rebuild.


The only word that comes to mind, mere hours later. I can no longer plan for my piece. After today’s events I cannot but type out of raw emotion. Perhaps such is not a bad thing. Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches that we must strive to experience mystery, we must stop to over conceptualize and over think; we must instead hone in on our instinctive reaction. We must begin to get in touch with/concentrate on our natural conceptions. This piece is my humble attempt at Heschel.

In all honesty, I don’t think I can even begin to conceptualize or understand the full gravity of today’s events even if I wanted to.

Raw. That’s what this piece is and that’s exactly what I need it to be. Maybe what we all need.

Today was just the latest feature/episode of a season’s long killing sprees. A week. A month. A year. A decade. A century. No. These heinous crimes of anti-Semitism, these Jewish tragedies, have been occurring for millennia. And yet, today it feels so much more real. Perhaps it is because I have lived my entire life in America, SHELTERED. I have been removed and not fully able to understand; I still can’t fully understand. But today, as I was driving back from my first experience at a shiva house (Jewish place of mourning) with a clear consciousness of the temporal nature of life and the finite existence of man, I learned there had been a second terror attack today. As more information became available, I learned that one of the victims of the Etzion Bloc shooting attack was a fellow yeshiva student. In a moment, comprehension dawned on me. In an instant, I was finally able to understand but a fraction of the pain experienced by but too many in this country who have lost loved ones whose only crime was being Jewish. But these people who are being killed are not soldiers. NO. They are regular people going about their regular lives doing common (non inciteful) things like sitting in traffic en route to the grocery store or going to pray at a local synagogue. And yet, that is who terrorists are targeting. They are not fighting any institution or regime, lest you be fooled. They are plain and simply slaughtering civilians. Old men, women and children. Those are the targets. Those are the oppressive occupiers? I think not. Excuse my naivety, but, personally, I can’t see the inciteful nature of going to buy groceries or spending a year abroad studying the ancient civilization of one’s ancestors.

Ezra Schwartz.

An 18-year-old boy from Boston.

Forever gone.

I never got to know Ezra. How many people will be forced to painfully say the same? A kid just like any other. Graduated high school and was ready to go on to college. But instead of going to college, Ezra came here—to Israel—to the land of his forefathers. Ezra, like thousands of other teenagers, took a break in his studies to spend a gap year learning about himself and his heritage.

What makes this tragedy particularly painful is the relatability of Ezra’s story. Ezra grew up in very much a similar context to me, with mere nuanced differences. Ezra surrounds himself in similar circles as me and there’s a high chance we would have crossed paths at some point throughout this year. Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and seeing my friends’ dear farewell posts to Ezra in between the various shared news articles detailing Ezra’s murder, aside from bringing countless tears to my eyes, served as a testament to the virtuous and value-based nature of Ezra’s character and how truly “close to home” Ezra’s murder is.

As I began this post, feelings of disparity and anger pulsed through my veins. Never in my life had I experienced such pain. I felt so alone. How real the terror became. How real the deprecating headlines and images of blood-stained sidewalks suddenly were. It could have been anyone of my friends who were on the same bus as Ezra. It could have been me.

Questions of why. Questions of faith. My head was swirling with questions and uncertainties as my heart was heavy with immense sadness. Sadness turned to anger and frustration. But as I have purged my raw emotions through the composition of this post, I have realized that such impulsive reactions would not be productive. It is important not to ask why but rather what; what do we do now? How can we sanctify the name of Ezra Schwartz z”l? Instead of concerning ourselves with the all too obvious/predictable world’s meager reaction, its seeming double standard and common practice to turn a blind eye to terror in Israel but readily condemn it, we must consider what our reaction will be. How we will rise in response to this great tragedy? How will we take this absolute travesty and great loss of potential and use it to transcend?

Whether these are messianic times or not is not the issue at hand. Whether it was halachically correct for us to reestablish our homeland is irrelevant. Whether you dress in monochrome or have dreadlocks, whether you wear skinny jeans or gel your payot is inconsequential. Yes, we all have differences; extreme differences. But it is the combination of those differences, the cultural blend and synthesis of all our various strengths and unique talents as individuals and as communities that will allow us to rise together again. Let us now stand in unison, arm and arm, not ignoring but rather forgetting about our differences, and realize the dream of a united Jewish front. Enough of the in-fighting regarding different religious and political agendas. It is time to finally stand “ke’ish echad belev echad” once again. It’s time to remember that despite it all, because of it all, we are still here.

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”


Yakir Zwebner is a 19-year-old student at Yeshivat Orayta located in the ancient city of Jerusalem. Yakir, a recent graduate of The Frisch School in Paramus, N.J., plans to study medicine at The University of Chicago next year. He is from Teaneck.

By Yakir Zwebner

via Times of Israel

(printed with permission)

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