July 8, 2024
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The Pain of Losing Ezra Schwartz HY”D

Ezra Schwartz.

Outside of the Sharon and Greater Boston Jewish community, it’s fair to say that many of us didn’t know him personally. Why is it that the hurt we’re feeling a week after his murder by a Palestinian terrorist saddens us so intensely? We’re taking this murder personally.

It’s not to discount the deaths of valiant IDF soldiers, or the ever-growing fatalities of the recent weeks of Palestinian terror. But how many victims of Palestinian treachery are given a moment of silence before a national audience of millions of viewers on Monday Night Football as his beloved New England Patriots hosted the Buffalo Bills?

Ezra Schwartz.

You might never have met this 18-year-old Sharon, Massachusetts, resident and Maimonides Academy graduate. But you know exactly who he was.

He is every Modern Orthodox son who approached Judaism with delight and excitement. He was the kid down the street who loved to play baseball, endless pickup basketball games, and who wore his New England Patriots jersey with pride. Ezra was every kid many of us have sent to yeshiva or seminary, because of a love of Israel and, even at a young age, an understanding of the continuity of the Jewish people.

There are Ezras living in Teaneck, Brooklyn, Stamford, Philadelphia, Florida and all over the country. A photo posted on Facebook shows Ezra playing a board game with a bunch of kindergarteners.

It hurts so much because we didn’t have to know him personally to “know” him.

“It feels different,” said Rabbi Beni Krohn, the rav of Young Israel of Teaneck, and himself a Maimonides graduate. “Every time we see a story online or in the paper (about a terrorist victim), it’s often about someone we have a harder time relating to, a soldier or a person who’s lived in Israel all of their lives. Ezra Schwartz looks like all of our children. Many of us were that child. He is every student from our yeshiva high schools.”

What happened in Gush Etzion last Thursday, according to the rabbi, is “every parent’s worst nightmare.”

The rabbi and other shul members traveled with many other Teaneck-area community members by bus to Sharon on Tuesday to make a shiva call. He said he doesn’t know the Schwartz family personally. He added “We will tell them that while we can never understand their pain, we are also hurting.”

Rabbi Dr. Meir Sendor, the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Sharon and Ezra’s rav, spoke to the Jewish Link on Tuesday morning. The pain that he and the Sharon community are experiencing reminded him of another time of sorrow.

He said that he and his wife were in Tzfat last year when the three Israeli boys were kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists.

“The whole country was on absolute alert for any shred of evidence of hope,” he said. “On one particular evening, in Tzfat, the entire town went silent in an instant. Then we knew. We heard people whispering the news to each other. After the silence in the streets, you’d hear weeping from the houses.”

When describing the pain being felt over Ezra’s murder, the rabbi said, “For him to be cut down at age 18 is an emblem of everything going on there, the destruction we are facing. It is insane. Here’s a person who hurts nobody and helps everybody, and he’s cut down.”

The rabbi said that the entire Sharon Jewish community knew Ezra and loved him. Rabbi Sendor described Ezra as “a totally joyful human being. He had that joy about life. He was all heart and joy with irreverence and reverence at the same time.

“This is who he was; a delightful person,” continued Rabbi Sendor. “He was larger than life in this way. He was a completely accessible human being. His life was cut short, but his life was whole. He lived every day with total commitment and total joy.”

Yeshivat Ashreinu, where Ezra was studying this year, is headed by Rabbi Gotch Yudin, son of Rabbi Benjamin Yudin of Fair Lawn, who shared Sendor’s view. “Ezra came here to do kindness, Ezra came here to learn,” Yudin said tearfully in a eulogy. “That’s what we have to do in Ezra’s memory. We have to make so much more kindness for the world here in the Land of Israel.”

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly spoke to Ezra’s parents on Tuesday. Among those paying shiva calls in person this week were Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, as well as many Teaneck residents.

Dena Levie, a Teaneck resident and daughter of Riverdale’s Rabbi Avi Weiss, wanted the Schwartzes to know how much they are in the thoughts of others, so she started a letter-writing effort. What she found was that people from all over Bergen County, Florida, Ohio and other parts of the country had words of care and support for Ezra’s family. Her plan was to gather letters emailed to her, place them in a binder and give them to the family. By this past Tuesday morning, she had collected more than 90 such letters. State Senator Loretta Weinberg even had one hand-delivered to Levie.

One letter that encompassed many of the thoughts of the various letters read:

“We are thinking of your family and your loss of your precious son Ezra Hy”d. Please know our hearts are with you, and your personal loss reverberates in the hearts of every Jewish family as we read more and more about the spirited, remarkable young man that we lost as a people. May your family know no more sorrows.”

By Phil Jacobs

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