In everyone’s circle

There are few times that I can recall my social media feeds being so utterly saturated with only one thing. One single horrific act on a Sunday morning created shock-waves throughout the Anglo Jewish world and way beyond. A true warrior for Israel, someone who epitomized strength and bravery, had somehow, almost inconceivably, become the latest victim of the endless war of terror against Jews and Israel.The appalling murder of Ari Fuld also did what few things could: generated a rare sense of unity.

Like elsewhere around the world, people in Israel are pretty polarized when it comes to their opinions; particularly about politics and religion. What’s been amazing is not just seeing the outpouring of love and support, but from across the political and religious divides. Ari Fuld was a proud ‘settler’, a strong right-winger politically, and had very definitive religious opinions. He did not shy away from arguments or controversy. Yet even the people and organizations that he fought most with have united to show their support as well.

Whenever we get the news here in Israel that there has been a ‘pigua’ – a terror attack –  we steal ourselves for the worst; hoping any victims will be okay. And when the unfortunate news come that they’re not okay, hoping it won’t be someone we know… And of course, it doesn’t really matter who it is, we tell ourselves. Every life matters. And we’re not lying. But let’s face it: when it is but a name, we are sad for the loss, sad for the family. But when it is someone in our own circle – our extended ‘family’, however wide it may be, it becomes personal. And we can’t help feeling it that much more.

Ari Fuld was in everyone’s circle. If you are in some way connected to Anglos in – or supportive of – Israel, you know exactly who Ari Fuld was and what happened to him. In fact, if you are reading this article, you are, by definition, part of that circle. Whether through his activism for Israel, for the Israel Defense Forces or for the Jewish people…whether you supported all or some or none of his activities or causes, Ari made himself known. And even if you didn’t know Ari, you certainly knew one of his brothers.

When I heard the unbelievably shocking news, I wrote  without hesitation on Facebook, ‘We are all in a state of shock…’ I was speaking for everyone. Because, of course. He and I were connected to all of the same people. It’s a small, tight-knit Anglo world here. Anyone who puts himself in the public eye is just that: public. There was no doubt in my mind that people were going to be absolutely crushed. Just exactly how I myself felt.

The truth is that Ari Fuld and I disagreed often and publicly. Usually I would say something open-minded and accepting about something that Ari felt strongly against – not just against it, whatever it was, but against my open-mindedness. It wasn’t just his opinion that he was putting out there, but the fact that I was coming from the same general community as he did, and how could I be so liberal? It bothered him tremendously and he wasn’t shy about letting me know. But I know – and I always knew – it was only his incredibly deep caring for Israel and the Jewish people that made him so determined.

In fact, our latest argument was just eight minutes before he was fatally stabbed. EIGHT. MINUTES. We were debating religious issues and in response to my liberal statements he fired back, over WhatsApp, an immediate volley of rebuttals and interrogative questions. I was never as tenacious as he was. In fact, I looked at his questions at the time, grumbled a bit, and decided I’d deal with it later. There never was a ‘later.’ His last counter-argument shall remain hanging. Forever.

As the reality of Ari’s death began to sink in those first few hours, the facts began to emerge. It was no surprise at all to me or to anyone that, despite suffering a fatal wound, like the true warrior that he was he gave chase and shot at his assailant, summoning superhuman strength to protect others. Always thinking of others…

The funeral was surreal. As is Jewish custom particularly in Israel, the funeral was held as soon as possible after Ari’s death even though ‘as soon as possible’ was 11:30pm that very night. In fact, it didn’t quite start until 1:00am but that didn’t stop the thousands of people from coming, and staying, to be with Ari and his family on his final journey. Indeed, so many felt that, in a way, Ari was their family too. Despite the fact that the funeral took place so soon after his death, there were even organized buses from various communities so that people could get there despite the lack of public transportation during the night.  

For the hour or so from the scheduled time of the funeral until it actually started, the crowds of people were singing. Softly at first, then gathering strength. In unison. Beautiful, soulful songs. So many people. All singing together amidst their tears. I’d never seen anything like it.

The shiva, which literally means ‘seven’ for the seven days of mourning, was cut to a ridiculously short day-and-a-half since a holiday that interrupts shiva, in this case Yom Kippur, ends the mourning period. There simply were non-stop crowds of people on both days. On the morning before Yom Kippur there were lines literally around the block, where people from every walk of life reportedly waited well over an hour for the opportunity to show their love and pay their respects… Many who had never actually met Ari or anyone else in his family in real life…

Rest In Peace, Ari. May your family find comfort in the incredible outpouring of support from your enormous ‘extended family.’ And may we all find the inspiration through your death to hold dear the values that you held in life: of your precious Israel and beloved Jewish people.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post

Ari (back row, blue shirt) at an event for Zionist activists [Credit: Laura Ben-David]

A Torah comes home after 40 years

IJ Torah third

Let me tell you an incredible story about a 40-year quest. It all started with an old note; a note that itself was over 40 years old when it all began. The date on the piece of paper was 1934. It was a note written in my great-grandfather Henry Rosenbaum’s name, from a synagogue in Brooklyn that we’d never heard of.

It was among my great-grandfather’s papers, discovered after he died in 1976. It was a note giving the synagogue permission to use and bear responsibility for a family Torah scroll that we’d never heard of and knew nothing about.

note from 1934 edited

My family was stunned; my father in particular. What Torah scroll was this note talking about? How is it possible that we never heard about it? We began asking family members what they could recall of this mysterious Torah scroll from so long ago.

They asked my grandmother and her two sisters if they remembered a Torah of their father’s. Between the three of them we were able to piece together the fact that my great-GREAT-grandfather, Moshe Ze’ev Ziffer, who was their grandfather and had lived with them before he died in 1933, had a Torah scroll. In fact Henry, their father, had built a cabinet to hold the Torah. After Moshe Ze’ev died, apparently Henry, now in possession of the Torah, gave it to a synagogue in Brooklyn to use.

Moshe Ze'ev & his wife Chaya Tzipora Ziffer are seated, Genia Ziffer Rosenbaum, Henry's wife, is standing second from right.
Moshe Ze’ev Ziffer & his wife Chaya Tzipora are seated, Genia Ziffer Rosenbaum, (Henry’s wife and my great-grandmother), is standing second from right.

Finding this out was incredibly exciting. We had a family Torah scroll! My dad, Marty Ginsberg – who is also Moshe Ze’ev, having been named for my great-great-grandfather – reached out to the synagogue nearly forty years ago and told them about our claim. They were skeptical at first, but when he sent them a copy of the old letter, plus supporting statements by various relatives and neighbors, they realized his claim was valid. Sure, they told him. You can have your Torah. Just tell us which one is yours.

My father was devastated. How could he possibly identify a torah scroll that was put in a synagogue for safekeeping years before he was even born? If the synagogue didn’t know, how could he possibly know?

Finally, several years after the initial discovery, my father took a trip to the synagogue with Rabbi Berel Wein, the rabbi of his synagogue in Monsey, NY at the time. Rabbi Wein carefully looked over all the Torah scrolls and determined, based on everything he knew about where Moshe Ze’ev was from and when he came to the States, that it was one or another of the Torah scrolls. Not quite definitive enough. Then nothing happened for twenty years.

Finally my father picked up the Torah story again and made new efforts. After my family’s aliyah to Israel in 2002, my father was determined to one day bring our family Torah to our synagogue here in the beautiful Judean Hills. He told Rabbi Betzalel Rudinsky, the rabbi of his local Monsey synagogue, the story of the Torah. Rabbi Rudinsky said the Brooklyn synagogue made a mistake. That it was THEIR obligation to know which Torah was his; not my father’s. And then Rabbi Rudinsky took on the quest as his own. He started going to Brooklyn and speaking with them at the synagogue. He even went to a din Torah – a court of Jewish law. He would go back and have meetings with people there; incredibly things began moving.

Every week my dad would ask the rabbi if there’s anything new, and the rabbi would give an update. This went on for a few years. We lost count of how many times my dad said, “I think we might actually be getting the Torah this week!” And then, of course, nothing.

Then one day, more than eighty years after the little note was written, and forty years since my great-grandfather passed away, my dad asked about the Torah and Rabbi Rudinsky said, “Oh Shmuel Schneid (a local scribe) has it.” My dad was shocked. We were ALL shocked. After all these years I don’t think any of us really believed the day would come. Suddenly we were actually getting the torah!

A few days later I was at a Friday ‘shuk’ in Gush Etzion to buy wine and challah for Shabbat. I passed a booth where a woman was selling various handmade items and she said to me, “Are you interested in purchasing a Torah cover?” It was incredibly odd. How many people out shopping on a Friday say “I’ll take two challahs, some chopped liver, and a cover for my Torah scroll…” I almost bought one out of shock. They were beautiful, but were somewhat pricey; and my dad was already arranging to purchase one himself. I made a mental note anyway and took her card.

As luck – or destiny – would have it, my parents were already planning a trip to Israel for their grandsons’ bar mitzvah celebrations. And those, mere weeks before my parents’ own 50th wedding anniversary. My siblings and I decided to have the torah cover made for them ourselves and dedicate it in memory of our great, great grandparents, to whom the Torah had originally belonged, and in honor of our incredible parents who have literally planted and nurtured the seeds of Torah for our family. I found the woman’s card and we made it happen.

When my parents boarded that El Al plane to Israel with the Torah, I don’t know which one of them was more happy and relieved. The flight attendant had the Torah placed on pillows in a first class closet. My dad sent us a WhatsApp message so we could all breathe easily knowing that after a forty year quest our Torah was coming home.

A triumphantly joyous moment as my family, together in Israel, are about to begin the dedication ceremony in Neve Daniel, Israel, where the Torah will reside; (from left) Marty Ginsberg, Hindy Bryks, Amy Gottlieb, Steven Ginsberg, Hudi Kenigsberg, Laura Ben-David and Carol Ginsberg.
A triumphant, joyous moment as my family, together in Israel, are about to begin the dedication ceremony in Neve Daniel, Gush Etzion, where the Torah will reside; (from left) Marty Ginsberg, Hindy Bryks, Amy Gottlieb, Steven Ginsberg, Hudi Kenigsberg, Laura Ben-David and Carol Ginsberg.

First printed in The Jerusalem Post, In Jerusalem, July 1, 2016