Rav Shai Ohayon, aged 39 and father of four, was murdered last week in Petach Tikva.
“He loved everyone and everyone loved him,” his father-in-law said in reaction to the tragedy. His neighbor Evyatar Cohen eulogized him in these words:
“He was a humble person, quiet, and pleasant to everyone. I only now learned that a brilliant Torah scholar was living among us. I was just told that he had recently passed the difficult qualifying exams taken in order to become chief rabbi of a city. It’s a heavy loss not just for his neighborhood, but for the entire nation of Israel.”
I heard an interview with his close friend, Yosef David Mugrabi, who was his chavruta for 11 years. Mugrabi mentioned the last conversation they had as Shai was getting on a bus: “Shai said that he was praying that people would understand Uman is not just about parties and dancing.” (A multitude of Jews gather each year in Uman observing Rosh Hashanah at the graveside of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.)
It seems to me that this prayer of Rav Ohayon was deeply meaningful. Public relations surrounding the annual pilgrimage to Uman are terrible. It’s true that you have fringe elements among the visitors, but we’re talking about tens of thousands of participants who arrive for a communal prayer that is extremely important to them.
It’s certainly understandable why it’s necessary to cancel flights to Uman this year. The question is more about the attitude and atmosphere surrounding the subject of Uman.
Banquet hall proprietors have received much sympathetic media coverage over the cancelation of events in their venues. When theatre performances and concerts are canceled, people embrace and commiserate with the affected parties. Canceled stand-up appearances evoke sympathy and empathy, as do canceled summer vacation plans.
For some people, Uman is the ultimate dream. They also deserve our empathy and should not be mocked or denigrated.
I never met Rav Shai Ohayon but the last sentence he spoke to his friend before he was murdered left me a lot to think about.