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]