Sunday, October 27, 2002

Are You the Same Person You Were Two Weeks Ago?

I haven’t written about Ari Weiss yet. Ari was killed in Nablus several weeks ago. His family made aliyah from Texas to Ra’anana and his father, Stewart, is a well-known Rabbi there, heading up the city’s Jewish Outreach Center.

I haven’t written about Ari yet because I never met him or his family. But many of my friends in both Ra’anana and Jerusalem did, and from what I have heard, the impact of Ari’s death on Ra’anana’s English-speaking community has many similarities to the impact of Marla’s death on our community here in Jerusalem.

Ari’s story was made all the more tragic in that he had just been profiled in a Jerusalem Post article two weeks earlier. In a conversation with his mother from Nablus where he was posted, Ari complained that he and his troop-mates were hungry. They didn’t have enough food. His mother, Susie, set out to bring them food and she asked various restaurants and food vendors in Ra’anana if they could donate some of their left-overs.

The response, which is chronicled in this article by Jerusalem Post staffer Eli Wohgelanter, was overwhelming: Susie was inundated by donations, and the article quickly made its way around the Internet as a particularly uplifting, inspiring tale of the Israeli sabra cliché come true: prickly on the outside but ever soft and giving on the inside.

Two weeks later, Ari was dead.

Ari’s father sent out a particularly moving Dvar Torah via email which he has given me permission to reprint here. The Dvar Torah ends with a question:

“I know that I am not today the same person I was two weeks ago. Are you?”

These words are among the truest I have read; they encapsulate poignantly how all these senseless killings affect us. The same can be said after Marla’s death. Or after any of the hundreds murdered: “I know that I am not the same person as I was two weeks ago, two months ago, two years ago …”


Everything changes.

The death al Kidush Hashem of our beautiful son Ari Yehoshua zt"l has created a prism through which every experience, every event, every thought must now be filtered. Each day, when I pray, the words strike home at me in a way they never did before, and I now see things which had eluded me in all the years previous.

So, too, the Torah I learn is the same, yet completely different from the Torah I knew before. Some p'sukim now are incomprehensible to me; yet I understand some things now much clearer than I did before.

An example of this is a halacha regarding the mitzva of the Ir Miklat, the City of Refuge (of which Nablus, where Ari fell, was one). Chazal (the Rabbis) tell us that the man-slaughterer who flees to an Ir Miklat in order to escape a vengeful next-of-kin must stay there until the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) dies. Then, he is free to go and will not be harmed.

I could never really understand this. What connection is there between a murderer and the spiritual head of the nation? Chances are the two never met, and certainly the Kohen had no part in the murder. Furthermore, why should the avenger relent when the Kohen Gadol dies?

But now I know. The Rabbis suggest that when the spiritual light of the nation, the one who achieved atonement for all the people dies, there is an overwhelming spirit of both grief and unity which grips Am Yisrael. No one would dare to compound the national agony with yet another murder, and so the manslaughterer goes free, unafraid of being targeted for harm.

While Ari may not have been the Kohen Gadol, he was without a doubt a pure and holy neshama (soul), who reached the highest level any Jew can reach in this world. He was kadosh (holy), a Rabbi Akiva of our times, and his death has engendered a new level of kedusha & achdut (unity) in Ra'anana, Israel and throughout the Jewish world.

Now we must expand upon the unity we are feeling, we must accelerate our love and devotion to each other. How can we compound our tragedy with quarrels, ill will or petty differences between us? We must breathe in this pure air of kedusha that surrounds us, and be energized to go forward, to create, to love, to smile, to see others in only a good light, to build, to live life with the same optimism and ahavat ha'briyut (love of humanity) which Ari exhibited.

I know that, Baruch Hashem, I am not today the same person I was two weeks ago. Are you?

In addition to Rabbi Weiss’s Dvar Torah, I also want to call your attention to two other powerful pieces.

Rolinda Schonwald, a Jerusalem author and close friend of the Weiss family, wrote a powerful poem about this tragedy. You can read it by clicking here.

And Sherri Mandell, mother of then 14-year-old Koby Mandell, relates Ari’s death to her own son’s tragic murder in this article. She writes of how Ari’s mother thought originally she could relate to Sherri’s pain. “Now she knows that she had no inkling. It is pain that you keep drowning in, over and over.”

Rabbi Stewart Weiss can be reached at:

Here are some other links to articles about Ari’s murder:

Eulogy by Ra'anana Mayor Ze'ev Bialsky.
Profile of Ari in Haaretz.
Jerusalem Post Report from Ari's Funeral.

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