A Hero in Har Nof
“What time did the kids leave this morning?” my husband called downstairs at around 7:20 this morning.
“Is everything OK? Did something happen?”
“The kids are fine, but something happened…” were my husband’s words.
That was how I found out about the massacre this morning at Har Nof’s “Kehilat Bnei Torah,” located just a few blocks from our children’s schools.
The 6:30 AM minyan which was the site of the attack is attended by hundreds of men every morning, including a large number of teachers who work in the local schools, cheiders, and talmudei Torah.
In light of this, I wanted to share a story from Har Nof this morning about a fellow teacher and administrator from my son’s school, whom I will call Rabbi Yitzi.
In my mind, Rabbi Yitzi is a hero. The kind of quiet but determined hero that has enabled the Jewish people to continue existing despite millennia of persecution and pogroms, crusades and inquisitions, wars and terror attacks that have filled our glorious as well as blood-soaked history.
But first of all, I want to share something I once heard.
Did you ever wonder why we Jews lay rocks on a new grave? How strange! Why not flowers like everyone else?
My teacher, Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi, once explained to us that we don’t place flowers on a grave because flowers die, just like the person inside the grave. But after tragedy strikes, we Jews don’t just cry and mourn. Instead, we place rocks. After tragedy strikes, Jews build.
7 years ago this week, Rabbi Yitzi’s young son was killed along with several of his classmates in a car accident. Rabbi Yitzi mourned his son deeply. And a few years later, he asked himself what Hashem wanted him to do next as a response to this tragedy. And he decided to raise tens of thousands of dollars to renovate the men’s mikvah in his community—in his son’s memory. The potential of a lifetime of good deeds and avodat Hashem had been snuffed out, and in response, he would do his best to increase the amount of holiness and purity in his own community.
This past summer, Rabbi Yitzi’s 18-year-old son was being sworn in as a soldier at the Western Wall with his IDF unit. On the way to the ceremony, Rabbi Yitzi and his family members were attacked by an Arab with pepper spray right outside the Old City. Rabbi Yitzi went to make a complaint at the police station, and then chose to respond to the attack on his family by joining his wife and children at the ceremony honoring his son’s swearing in as an Israeli soldier who would defend the Jewish people, with Hashem’s help, against all its enemies.
And then, this morning at 7:20, when the bus he was travelling on carrying boys to his school was stopped by the police, Rabbi Yitzi was informed that no traffic was being allowed into Har Nof as a result of a terror attack in a synagogue. Four Jews murdered and many others injured by terrorists as they stood in silence before Hashem reciting the Shemonah Esreh.
Rabbi Yitzi stood in a crowd of confused Talmud Torah boys who had been sent off the bus, with no way to get to school that morning.
And Rabbi Yitzi told the kids to call their parents, to tell them they were fine. And then he called out, “Boys, come with me! There’s no bus this morning, so we’re going to walk!” And he set off down the hill followed by a crowd of boys on the forty minute trek through Har Nof to their Talmud Torah.
Because this morning, Rabbi Yitzi realized that enemies of the Jewish people had murdered Jews as they served their Creator in prayer.
And, he thought, tragedy has struck… What rock can I lay on those graves? What can I do to build?
And he led a group of boys to their Talmud Torah so they could serve Hashem through Torah study and prayer.
Am Yisrael Chai!
And THAT is why.