By Yishai Fleisher
In the last two weeks I had the painful privilege of attending two big funerals.
The first was the funeral of Irving Moskowitz, the wealthy American doctor who, along with his wife Cherna, became the patron of building in eastern Jerusalem, Hebron, Akko, and Ariel, and was involved in countless building projects, reclamations, charities, and educational institutions. By one unofficial estimate, Moskowitz gave half a billion dollars to these causes – but it might be much more. He was interred on the Mount of Olives facing the Temple Mount, close to the graves of Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Kook, and first IDF Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Goren, in the heart of eastern Jerusalem where he helped pioneer Jewish life. His funeral, while sad, was not marred by an atmosphere of a tragedy, rather, it was a kind of celebration of his mission and success.
Less than two weeks later, I was standing at the funeral of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, a lively 13-year-old girl who had been murdered by a 17-year-old Jihadist from Arab village Bani Na’im. He scaled a wall and jumped through a window of the Ariel’s family home set within the vineyards of Kiryat Arba. The murderer found little Hallel sleeping in her bed defenseless, so he stabbed her tens of times and then ran looking for a next victim until a member of the Rapid Response Team ended his life with a bullet. Hallel was buried in the ancient cemetery of Hebron, where many other Jewish victims of Jihad terror rest along with Jewish luminaries, not far from the Machpela, the Tomb of the Founding Fathers and Mothers of the Jewish people. Unlike the Moskowitz funeral, this one was not a celebration of the life well lived, but rather the epitome of tragedy, loss, and bitter questions. The contrast between the two funerals was stark. Irving Moskowitz lived his life fully. He was a loving family man and a rags-to-riches success (his wife Cherna told us that at their wedding, the bottom two layers of the wedding cake were faux – only the top tier was real cake, because that’s all they could afford). Moskowitz dedicated his life and wealth to increasing Jewish presence and asserting Jewish rights in the Land of Israel. His funeral was a Who’s Who of activists, ministers and mayors who came to honor the successes and contributions of a man who kept pushing the Zionist revolution into the heartland of Israel liberated in the Six Day War.
Hallel Yaffa’s contributions were, on the other hand, more modest. She was the oldest girl in her family, a natural leader to her siblings and many cousins, and a dance performer — her dance teacher’s eulogy at the funeral was a painful testimony to her young life. Yet at her funeral some of the very same activists, ministers, and VIPs that were present at the Moskowitz funeral attended. This time, they came not to celebrate, but to commiserate with a salt-of-the-earth family, a victim of a despicable crime perpetrated by forces dedicated to eradicating us from our country. And many more came to say goodbye to little Hallel, whose body and potential were destroyed forever. No dancing, no children, no life.
At the Moskowitz shiva, modern day Zionist heroes streamed in. As I sat next to Cherna, I translated for Yigal Cohen-Orgad, the Chancellor of Ariel University who talked about how Moskowitz saved the budding college from going into bankruptcy with a fifty-thousand dollar donation to cover debt. Then I translated for an Arab man who works with reclamation organizations in Jerusalem. He blessed Cherna for a long life and urged her to continue with strength, saying that though he has been the target of many assassination attempts, he believes his efforts on behalf of Israel protected him. He promised Cherna that he will continue his work, and that his sons after him will as well, “all the way until the Temple is built in Jerusalem” — yes, I heard it myself. Finally, I translated for Ze’ev Hever (Zambish), the famous CEO of Amana (the housing organization of Judea and Samaria), who told the story of how Moskowitz gave him money for the first mobile homes for new immigrants from Russia.
Zambish recalled that it had taken only ten minutes to convince Moskowitz and that they reconvened to phone the mobile homes factory owner to close the deal that very same evening. Through the stories, we learned that Moskowitz was a quick decision maker, that he was very hands-on with the legal minutia, that he saw clearly the importance of acquiring the land of Israel. Moskowitz did not wait for the government to lead – indeed, I got the impression that Moskowitz formed a shadow government of activists around him — they ran ahead, created facts, and then allowed the government to catch up.
At Hallel Yaffa’s shiva, there was frustration and pain. Important politicians, the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, and the President, all came into the family home but somehow their proclamations rang hollow and shallow. The greatest questions asked in today’s Israel were right on the surface, but the politicians did not have clear answers: what is the nature of this Jihadist Jew-hatred and how do we stop it? Do Jews have a right to live in this (part of the) land, and if yes, is it a smart thing to do? What is the Palestinian Authority and how is it that our country awaits them at the peace table yet they are the source of the greatest incitement?
But the politicians had more blandness than answers and even seemed more culpable than capable. The government response to the murders seemed tepid at best: restricting Arab work permits for a limited time, and announcing the approval of 42 housing units in Kiryat Araba which had already been approved once before. Local Arab Jihadis recently murdered Yitzchak Chasno, two members of the Litman family, gardener Gennady Kaufman, and now Hallel Yaffa and Rabbi Mark – but there was no sense of rage or urgency in the government actions in the Hebron region. At the shiva house, the Prime Minister and the President were received warmly and respectfully, but not with confidence that they will bring real change in response to these crimes and these times.
Yet, overtly, what was common to both funerals and shiva houses was an abiding faith in the right of the Jewish people to live in freedom and security anywhere in this great, but tiny land. Irving Moskowitz and Hallel Yaffa Ariel both exemplified the struggle to actualize Jewish life in the Jewish ancestral homeland. Both Moskowitz and Hallel Yaffa stood for Jewish courage that will not succumb to bullying from outside forces or yield to slothfulness from within.
May their memory be a blessings and an inspiration to all of us.