By: David Rubinstein  | 

Yeshiva University Mourns Ezra Schwartz

The Yeshiva University community was shocked and troubled by an attack on November 19, 2015 near Alon Shevut in the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem that killed three, of which two had particularly close ties to many students.

Ezra Schwartz, 18, was studying at Yeshivat Ashreinu in his gap year between graduating Maimonides School and matriculating to Rutgers University. He was shot to death after having brought food and cheer to soldiers stationed nearby as part of his yeshiva’s volunteering program.

Dr. Yaakov Don, 49, was a teacher at the women’s seminary Emuna VeOmanut, where several YU students studied. He was heavily involved in Jewish education in Israel. Through his connection to Bnei Akiva, he lectured several current YU students when they visited Israel on the Mach hach trip nearly a decade ago. Dr. Don had taught in Toronto as well.

Shaadi Arfa, a Palestinian resident of Hebron, was also killed in the attack.
After the afternoon prayers on Thursday, students on Wilf Campus gathered in the Glueck Beit Midrash for a communal recitation of psalms. Students at the Beren Campus also came together to recite psalms.

On the night of the attack, members of the YU community from both undergraduate campuses gathered in the Lipshutz-Gutwirth Study Hall (Rubin Shul) to share their thoughts and feelings on the attack. Several alumni of the Maimonides School expressed their shock and sadness that someone they once knew had been cut down by Palestinian terror. One student shared emotionally that his brother had been in the car with Mr. Schwartz when he was killed.

The event was organized by Miriam Renz, SCW ’18, who said that many students wanted to come together with their peers to reflect on the tragedy. Working closely with SOY President Tuvy Miller, leaders of the Israel Club, the Counselling Center, and Dean Nissel, Ms. Renz planned the gathering within hours of the news of the attack. The event was spread through an email from Rabbi Brander to the students of YU on via Facebook.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Vice President for University and Community Life and former David Mitzner Dean of the Center for the Jewish Future attended as well as University Dean of Students Dr. Chaim Nissel, and Associate Director of University Housing and Residence Life Mr. Jonathan Schwab. Martin Galla, LCSW, and Dr. Eric Pollack, Assistant Director and Psychologist, respectively, at the Counseling Center, were present and available to talk to students, too.

Mr. Schwartz’s body was returned to Sharon, Massachusetts, for burial. As his body left the Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel on Saturday night, November 21, hundreds of friends, former teachers, and others gathered to pay their last respects to the slain teenager. Among those present were many siblings of current YU students who are now studying in Israel in their gap year between high school and college.
The Boston Globe reported that over 1,000 attended Mr. Schwartz’s funeral on Sunday, November 22, among them several YU students. Many members of the Schwartz family eulogized Ezra as well as his baseball coach, a family friend, high school principal, and the head of his Yeshiva in Israel.

Ezra Schwartz’s murder reached nationwide recognition when the New England Patriots, a team of the National Football League, held a moment of silence in Mr. Schwartz’s memory before their Monday night game. After a communitywide effort calling ESPN and requesting that the moment of silence be broadcast, the channel showed the tribute on national television. The stadium announcer called him a “huge Patriots fan” who was “gunned down 5,500 miles away from home in a senseless act of terrorism.” In the lounge of the Morgenstern Residence Hall dozens of students gathered to watch the moment of silence even though they did not intend to watch the football game itself.

On Tuesday, November 24, several Yeshiva University students travelled by chartered bus to the Schwartz shiva home. Thousands of visitors came to Sharon to comfort the Schwartz family. Several dignitaries offered their condolences, including United States President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who telephoned the family. Robert Kraft, owner of the National Football League team the New England Patriots, also visited the mourners.

A week after the shooting, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke at a memorial in Israel organized by Yeshiva University, the Orthodox Union in Israel, MASA, and Yeshivat Ashreinu. The event was attended by over 1,000.
Mr. Schwartz’s death comes as one of many since mid-September, the start of the latest surge in Palestinian violence. Widespread stabbings, shootings, and car-ramming attacks have led to much bloodshed. As of press time, 19 Israelis and at least 96 Palestinians, many of which were terrorists and attempted terrorists, have died in the conflicts.

The tragic events in Israel serve as a sad reminder for the more uplifting fact that the Yeshiva University community comes together in times of need.