Monday, June 24, 2019 -
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A body, a nation, pierced

There are turning points in life, and the murder of Ari Fuld, in the junctures of my life, is one of them. Tens of thousands of hearts around the world were breaking as tears flowed when the news broke of our online friend, tireless Israel advocate, Ari Fuld, murdered in cold blood by a Palestinian terrorist. Even before the heart wrenching yet profoundly uplifting middle-of-the-night funeral in the Judean hills, which I watched in real time via live stream, with pre-Yom Kippur intensity permeating the air, did the legend of Ari Fuld and his impact start taking shape online.

It was the middle of the night getting closer to dawn, but due to a cold I was up and found myself checking the news. I read of a terrorist attack in Gush Etzion, at the strip mall and supermarket known for its spirit of co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians. I followed the unfolding story.

As it was developing, I clicked on a meme by Ari Fuld, and was reading up on another developing story I hadn’t been aware of. Ari had just released a stop-in-your-tracks visual of a life-size knife, with the following question above it: “Did The Terrorist Have The Intent To Kill?” Delineated on the life-size graphic was an every-two-centimeters mark, and underneath each successive digit (3 cm, 5 cm, 8 cm, etc.) Ari answers his own question with a “yes” under each incremental measurement. The meme cynically said, “This is a Free Public Service Announcement for the Israeli Court Judges.”

I didn’t quite understand. Obviously anyone stooping to stab another human is intending to hurt him, and this could likely lead to death. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or, I would think, a judge, to understand that.

Under the knife graphic was Ari’s message: “Pray with a bit more intensity,” implying the recklessness of a court decision. Was the ruling about the length of a knife? Or the intent of a stabber?

What was up? What was Ari talking about?

Before reading on, I double checked Ari’s Facebook page for any news about the terrorist attack in Gush Etzion. After all, he is so often the first line of news in these tragic attacks.

Nothing.

I keep reading on about this latest legal decision regarding knife terrorism: a new controversial Israeli court decision. Apparently, Ari was reacting to a new law released the previous day. It states that the criteria for the length of a prison sentence for a terrorist stabbing is now to be determined by assessing whether the stabber had intent to kill. Ah, so that was the point of Ari’s powerful visual on his Israel advocacy page.

Insane, I thought to myself. As if anyone would stab another human only looking to scratch them, or mark them. Not only is it ridiculous to assume that a Palestinian going so far as to stab another human is not aiming to kill. What is further infuriating is that such a law, cultivating mercy or mitigation for a violent terrorist act, only serves to encourage such behavior. Where is the deterrent to knife stabbings? I wondered, frustrated, exasperated.

At first, I began following Ari online, enjoying his Thursday night erev Shabbat video clips of the Old City, the singing of random groups on the steps to the Kotel, the Kotel itself, and other feel-good Israel moments that made you feel like you were right there, getting the prelude to Shabbat spirit that can only be found in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Then I started viewing Ari’s “Frenemies” clips. He sparred with leftists like Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now and Uri Zaki of B’Tselem.

Ari’s debate style was combative, at times even caustic, always relentless. His principled truth that poured out with so much passion was more than just about advancing an argument, it was watching him fight for the very State of Israel.

Over time, he would come and go on Facebook, and I began seeing many of Ari’s videos, with his signature, fast paced, almost hyper, confident, warm, joyous, idealistic and inspiring videos. Although his positions mostly resonated for me, there were times when they did not. And sometimes even if his position did align with my opinion, his way of conveying it was different from how I would have said things. He had guts. He didn’t care what people thought. His sole goal was truth. But whether the content or the style of what Ari was saying was resonating with me or not, was irrelevant. Regardless, I always wanted to see what Ari had to say. I always was inspired by his confidence and piercing defense of Israel, come what may.

So, I keep checking Ari Fuld’s page — again, nothing.

Suddenly a notice in Hebrew about the attack from Rav Amnon Bazak came up in my newsfeed. I start reading about the heroic final act of the person stabbed — it sounded unreal. So the person is dead, I think to myself. Oh wait, so it’s a knife stabbing? The first victim of this new, disturbing law. That graphic Ari had just released flashed through my mind. Intent to kill? Right here, right now, the first stabbing since this new law and the victim didn’t make it! I grit my teeth and my emotions; I rise at this hard-to-comprehend, terrible new policy of not deterring knife stabbings, of putting innocent Israeli civilian lives at stake.

Rav Bazak goes on to lament, aside from the primary tragedy of a human life cut short, the ancillary tragic by-product of the attack, a slashing of any hope in a future co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians. The site of the attack was at a supermarket, a strip mall, that models Israeli-Palestinian co-existence! Clearly, this act of depraved inhuman violence, of a Palestinian stabbing a Jew, a fellow human, in the back, all the way through to the heart, has put the kibosh on that.

Rav Bazak wraps his message up with the words, “May G-d avenge the blood of Ari, and this is in Hebrew, with the three letters pei, lamed, daled. There was no vav after the paid, so I read it as Ari pei. But in a split second I’m thinking, wait, noooooo, not Ari Fuld. Ari pei, right? It can’t be. Not Ari Fuld. No way! (And of course, that’s a whole other set of emotions and moral struggles, because whether you personally know the person or not, someone here is dead and many loved ones will be suffering).

Shaking, I start checking around Facebook, but still totally hanging my hope on that measly vav, that it’s someone named pei and not Fuld. I’m not seeing the name of the victim anywhere yet. Not even on people’s Facebook pages who would be in the know. There’s hope, I tell myself. Ari? Can’t be. It’s almost inconceivable. Ari, so full of life, so on the move, so fast-paced, such a master multi-tasker, such a warrior. Besides, Ari’s role is to be the disseminator of Israeli news, not to be the subject of it.

But then a video starts circulating (that I was too scared to click on) with the inscription to this effect, “see how the mortally wounded, knife victim, with his last breaths, chased down his terrorist attacker, including jumping a wall, managed to shoot him on target, neutralizing him, sabotaging any further attack by the terrorist, thereby saving lives.” Aside from thinking, what is this? some super-hero movie? how is that even humanly possible? the dread began to grow, because the truth is, no one would be able to do that.

Except, maybe, Ari Fuld.

Ari, with great pride, had just recently posted on his page a brief video with the startling precision of a fellow elite IDF soldier taking out fluttering, incendiary balloons with one shot apiece, his aim so eerily perfect. Personally, I hate guns and recoil from them. Even though I understood Ari’s perspective, which I obviously share, of incredible pride in Jews now being able to protect and defend ourselves, I still get the heebejebes from seeing that clip. I still want to believe, even though I understand that, sadly, it is a pipe dream right now, that if only there were peace and no guns were needed, that is what is what would be truly ideal. Now, just like that knife graphic, that chilling balloon clip suddenly flashes before my eyes.

The next thing I know, on social media — Ari Fuld’s kingdom, his ministry — the floodgates had opened. Tough, grown men, my friends, my contemporaries, are weeping, even sobbing, on Facebook.

It was. Ari. Fuld. F.U.L.D.

Because how do you even announce that name without crying?

The comment sections of the generic terrorist attack news site began lighting up with urgency, with great shock and emotion, so many so clearly pained by the devastating news. “Ari Fuld was murdered!!!” Some couldn’t bear to articulate the reality of his name and just wrote, “they just said his name!!! Oh My G-d.” And so on. Even his staunch ideological opponents, Yariv Oppenheimer and Uri Zaki, with whom Ari nonetheless cultivated a friendly rapport, publicly grieved Ari’s murder. If you want to know the content of Ari’s character, that really says it all. Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted his respects for this hero who. with his last breaths, averted further terror attacks and saved we’ll-never-know how many lives.

Somehow, everyone knew Ari. On Facebook he was always going live, sharing a video, a dvar Torah, a night at the luminescent kotel, a recording of a debate and so on and so forth. Over the years, Ari’s Israel advocacy reached thousands of people around the world, even before he met his followers in person and forged a bond with them. His signature warmth and care pierced through the sterile nature of an electronic medium.

What a creepy convergence. Within a few hours, in the wake of this new law that Ari prophetically warned about, he was its first victim. That knife meme is now absolutely haunting.

Not since I lived in Israel and the devastating horror of David and Nava Appelbaum, murdered on the eve of their wedding, or the still traumatic saga of the Three Boys kidnapping, has a terror attack rippled like this.

The last time I “saw” Ari it was on his Rosh Hashanah video that he posted from the Kotel. There he was with his little, genuinely adorable son. It was a special pre-Rosh Hashanah father-son outing. Ari had awakened his little boy at midnight and they went on their middle of the night special adventure, to imbibe the holy Selichot prayers and peoplehood of the pre-Rosh Hashanah spirit. His little boy (Natan, I believe), draped by the glowing Kotel in the background, sweetly and with an innocent smile, wished everyone a “Shana tova.”

At the time, it felt like just another generous Ari video, where, he gave a person at great physical distance from Israel the opportunity, the gift, really, to vicariously be in Israel at key places, at key moments.

Just days later, the new year so young, watching his funeral, that Selichot night’s sweetness of childhood innocence was replaced with the wet tears, the visible, crushing anguish, the tentative kaddish of a little orphan now bereft of his beloved father. “Shana tova.” I could still hear and see him saying it so sweetly, just days before. I pray, in time, as this sweet child becomes older, those treasured moments at the Kotel he has recorded for posterity will provide him some comfort.

Looking back on Ari’s final dvar Torah video that he recorded Sabbath Eve, the final Friday of the Jewish year, is eerie. It’s as though, unknowingly, it was his spiritual will and testament. His talk was about the transition of leadership, about Moses’s departure from the Jewish people, and Moses not entering the promised land. It included the phrase “you’re about to die, you’re handing it (the mantle of leadership) over to the next leader.” The insight Ari shared was that the future destiny of the Jewish People was not in the hands of one conduit, one leader, not even someone as great as Moses, but rather, in the hands of the people, the nation. He laced his teaching with Moses’s famous blessing and charge to Joshua as he embarks on his journey to inherit the land of Israel, chizku ve-imtzu, be brave and be strong. Ari was quoting Moses’ famous parting words, which turned out to be Ari’s parting words.

Poignantly, as Ari was sharing this teaching, he spontaneously broke to bless one of his daughters with the traditional Friday night Shabbat blessing. The video is hectic with the pre-Shabbat spirit of mild background chaos, a dog barking, etc., when he explains that his daughter was going away for Shabbat, and seeing as he won’t be able to bless her on Shabbat itself he blessed her right then and there.

The truth is, it is overwhelming to try to capture and compress Ari, in all his facets, in an article written under the deadline pressure of the impending Yom Kippur. Ari was a one-man show who lived and breathed Israel and the Jewish people. He lived with a constant sense of mission for Israel, on behalf of us all. The many roles he played and the range of his activism were breathtaking. It will take 100 Ari Fulds to fill the shoes of this one man. He seemed to be everywhere, at all times. In addition to being a devoted family man, a central and very active community member of his neighborhood and congregation, let alone his famously tenacious advocacy for Israel, he was also a member of his community’s security emergency response team (read night time patrols) in Efrat. He was a master karate sensei who taught and built the confidence and defense skills in generations of children, many of whom are now IDF soldiers, defenders of the land of Israel.

Then there’s Ari’s voluntary army reserve service. At age 40, when he received his discharge papers from the IDF, he ripped them up, and continued to serve alongside youngsters, putting in equal sweat equity in his capacity as an elite IDF soldier.

Whether one agreed or disagreed with Ari, the great equalizer about him was his profound familial level of love for the soldiers of his beloved IDF. He was constantly raising money for them, to the point when sometimes you saw that video again with Ari’s characteristic plug and you just couldn’t pass it by. From large projects to small, be it treating soldiers to pizzas or finding technology to relieve them of the oppressive Middle East heat, he was on it. The way he saw it, the IDF were the Jewish people’s protectors, and he took it upon himself to be their guardian angel, so to speak.

As the news of Ari’s murder was confirmed, I thought to myself, Yom Kippur in Efrat will be especially painful. Thousands will descend on Ari’s shul and pray and support his family and friends. I was picturing a Kol Nidrei service out of doors, under a starry night sky.

Well, it seems, this year Yom Kippur arrived two days early. As details of Ari’s funeral spread later the night of his death, thousands across Israel began the pilgrimage to honor this giant with their last respects; this hero, who in his final breaths, probably prevented a Yom Kippur eve bloodbath at the Gush Etzion junction.

The roads to Ari’s funeral alone, in the dark of night of the Judean hills, lit only barely by car lights, bumper to bumper, for miles, were full as far as the eye could see. Due to this outpouring of love and respect for Ari, the car carrying his body was at the mercy of this traffic on the road, so the funeral was delayed significantly. In the middle of the night thousands gathered, overflowing from the four walls of the funeral home into the black outdoors. Waiting. Someone started singing one of the deeply solemn and emotional Yamim Noraim melodies of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. From heartfelt tune to tune, melody to melody, song to song, for at least an hour, until Ari’s body and his broken family arrived, thousands of friends, family, loved ones and strangers huddled together, singing Ari’s soul toward his arrival in his final resting place. It was sealed with a powerful Avinu Malkeinu just as he was brought in, wrapped in a tallit. I wasn’t even there in person, and the singing alone felt like one of the holiest of Neilah services. Which I suppose, it was. The Neilah of Ari Fuld’s life.

The gut wrenching funeral and eulogies began. A family circle so tight, a father, strong brothers, a softly wailing mother in the background. You can watch it online. It was hard to see Ari’s wife Miriam, my childhood friend, riddled in pain, yet with so much resilient grace, now a woman, a mother, a wife, and all she is enduring.

As part of Miriam’s loving remarks, she chose to share some of Ari’s own words, from a little notebook Ari had tucked in the pocket of his fatigues, in which he jotted down a warrior’s musings on the cusp of battle, while serving in one of the Lebanon wars. She read it for the first time only that day, after Ari’s murder. What Miriam shared revealed a very human and vulnerable warrior outshined by profound courageousness, and ironclad faith in G-d, whose cause was ultimately larger than himself and his own life, as he prayed for the IDF to persevere and overcome.

Ari’s daughter shared one of Ari’s central life messages that he drummed into her: “If life is easy, you are living it wrong. Life is meant to be hard.”

At twilight on Yom Kippur, the book of Jonah is read in synagogue. Jonah, according to rabbinic lore, was the prophet who singularly defended the honor of the Jewish people. He fought for them and his belief in them, and went to great lengths, even trying to escape G-d, just so as to stand in support of the Jewish nation.

Ari embodied that dimension of Yonah. He fought for what he believed in, his belief in the destiny of the Jewish people. “Ari,” Hebrew for “lion,” was the lion of Zion, the lion of Judah, of our time. A lion walked among us, and his roar in support of the Jewish people was heard far and wide across the world. But he was the balance and wings of a light dove, of a yonah, too.

Now, he will forever be lionized in the annals of Jewish history.

Thousands of hearts might have been broken and thousands of tears may have been shed.

But the spirits of the people are strong and shall endure.

That is what Ari Fuld taught us all.

To be like the Yonah of Yom Kippur and defend the Jewish people.

To be chazak v’ematz, strong and brave, in country, spirit, and Jewish faith.

To roar like a lion and fly like a dove.

Yehi zichro baruch.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News



Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park


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