For My Camper, Ezra Schwartz
As I approached the Temple Sinai of Sharon, Massachusetts the words of King David’s Psalms could be heard from the street, and the pulsing prayers on Ezra’s behalf were rising skyward. Police and security were stationed every few meters, their faces somber and respectful. I stood outside of the synagogue with hundreds of others because the main sanctuary had already been filled to capacity nearly two hours before the actual ceremony. The tears from above and the tears from below came together, the cold rain chilled our bones. I saw some of my campers; we held each as we cried. When they saw me crying, I felt as if they saw me as inviting them to do the same. We stood together, we stand together.
To have told you that because you are a Jew, you should have been at Ezra Schwartz’s funeral this past Sunday, would have been asking a lot of you, not to mention, totally not my place. I went because I knew Ezra from Camp Yavneh, and because my heart felt pulled to go. Not only because I knew him personally, but also, because I am a Jew, and because Ezra’s “Jewishness” is what got him killed (in a terrorist attack last week in the West Bank), and nothing more. But I can tell you that there was once a dream placed before us at Sinai. A dream of a people that no matter what would always stick together, and that these people of the book, The Children of Israel are not just a nation, but a family. As if from, the same mother, we are brothers and sisters.
As I listened to the eulogies of younger and older siblings, family and friends, and clergy, my toes were freezing cold, but it was really the heartbreaking wailing of people in attendance, that was chilling. Walking along the family and Jewish leaders, as we fulfilled the commandments of ללוות” המת, escorting the dead” and honoring the קדושים, Holy Martyrs of Israel, I was overwhelmed by the unity of the space, despite our many backgrounds, and despite our ritual and liturgical practice, for just those few hours, we were strong, bound and united.
As we stood for close to two and half hours for just the eulogies, I couldn’t help but look at this gathering of the Jewish people and think about the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, though under the anti-Semitic fist of Pharoah, וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ, כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ, And whenever they (Egyptians) would oppress them, they (the Hebrews) would increase, and they would spread (Exodus 2:12).” j
It may seem too mystical to feel as if a piece of me died with Ezra and all of the other Holy Martyrs of Israel, but because this attack was against my people, it was an attack against me. I have been emotionally drained and so consumed with the news of these attacks, because their death is my own, and their life is my own. So because of this, at Ezra’s funeral help but feel a deep sense of family and nationhood. When so many people, from all streams of Judaism came together for Ezra’s funeral, it was a clear indicator that Ezra embodied the Prophet’s vision (Isaiah 11:6) “and a child shall lead them all-נער קטן נוהג בם.”
We all stood in solidarity, propping each other up, and showing the dozens of police officers securing the premises, that the Jewish people’s strength does not depend on any Israeli achievement, but something far more Divine. Because “Nation of Israel lives-עם ישראל חי,”and continues to fight the darkness of terrorism with the light of Jewish hope, each of us differently manifesting the words of King David: “דחה דחיתני לנפל וה’ עזרני- you push us hard that we might fall, the Lord is an Ezra (help) for me!” remained strong.
As the nations of the world try to break us down, and rip away our hope for a brighter future that God’s Ezra (help) Will Reign, we stand a little closer, warming each other, loving each other and strengthening the flame that thousands of years of Jewish persecution has attempted to extinguish. As this week’s Torah portion teaches as Jacob’s name becomes Israel, we must all stand, regardless the limp we may have suffered (Genesis 32: 32) together, we must raise our voice and our HaTikvah (Israel’s national anthem, which means “the hope”), especially now, when the symbol of Hanukkah glimmers in our midst, no Antiochus or ISIS has a chance.
So friends, reach out to our brothers and sisters, from close and far, reach out and whisper softly and scream loudly the blessing we recite before lighting the Hannukah candles is our HaTikva, our hope, the miracles we need, will be: “בימים ההם בזמן הזה, in these days, just as in those.”