Mah Nishtana HaTerror Hazeh?

by Rabbi Ephraim Epstein

On Thanksgiving Day, when more Turkey is consumed and football is watched in this country than any other day of the year, I chose to forego a local family celebration and instead to join another part of my family that has been understandably going through a horrid time. I drove up to Sharon, Massachusetts, to visit with the Schwartz family and participate in the Shiva for Ezra, to join in the mourning for this precious Jewish soul that was torn away from us. Although the Schwartz home was a bit less crowded that day, it still teemed with the bustle of people young and old, those who knew the Schwartz family beforehand and those that did not. After my visit, I was speaking to a friend from Sharon, Massachusetts who sincerely posed the question: Mah Nishtana HaTerror Hazeh – Why has the Shiva of Ezra Schwartz merited the attention it has received?

The question is worth exploring. Unfortunately we are not strangers to terror and tragedy. Baruch Hashem a hallmark of Jewish communities around the world is that we are there for each other in good and sad times. Yet I cannot remember a time ever that there was an outcry and a rush of active participation in the sorrow like we have seen by Ezra Schwartz HY”D. First was the gathering at Ben Gurion Airport with hundreds participating in the sadness and soulful singing and words of inspiration (which has been watched 20K on times on You Tube), and then the funeral and Shiva that merited thousands and thousands of visitors. Dignitaries, religious leaders, sports heroes and scores of schools, shuls, rabbis, presidents and Jews from around the country who never met Ezra felt the need to come and share in the sorrow and provide some comfort with their presence. Why?

I believe there are at least two answers to the question:

  1. As caring Jews and people, when we hear of any terror or tragedy we feel awful. We may offer prayers or send Tzedakah; but we still feel distant from the tragedy. This time the American Jewish world felt that the tragedy was within reach; it was our tragedy and therefore we wanted to be there and do what we could to provide love and support.
  2. The second reason is because we all see ourselves in the reflection of Ezra and the Schwartz family. They are fine and upstanding members of their local Jewish community. Ezra’s brothers and sister look and sound similar to thousands of other American Jewish kids their age that frequent our shuls, schools and summer camps. Who does not have a son, daughter, cousin, niece, nephew or relative studying on Gap Year program in Israel? We all related so seamlessly to the Schwartz family, it became a national tragedy, our tragedy too.
    Ezra’s mom, Ruth, expressed at the Shiva that the amount of unity demonstrated throughout the entire spectrum of the Jewish people in the wake of this tragedy is noteworthy. It was not just orthodox Day Schools that sent buses to visit, Jews from every place and every background came to share in the sorrow. Ari, Ezra’s dad, heroically recognized each of the thousands of visitors and expressed appreciation for their visit.

We are living in very troubled times. The words of the Haggadah — In every generation they rise up to dispose of us — ring too true in the media and on the web daily. What gives us strength is our trust in G-d, our illustrious history and our sense of commitment to one another as a nation. The almighty G-d is a constant. Our national history is well known and documented. It is our sense of unity and community that needs strengthening. Ezra Schwartz HY”D inspired our nation to grow closer in a way that we never have before. That is what made this Terror different; and for that alone, he will always be remembered.

May Hashem provide Ezra with eternal serenity, may Hashem provide the Schwartz family the comfort and strength to continue and forge ahead and may Klal Yisrael continue to support one another like we did Thanksgiving week as a tribute to Ezra. In the merit of our unity, may Hashem usher in the time of ultimate unity, the time of Moshiach soon in our days – Amen.

Rabbi Ephraim Epstein serves Congregation Sons of Israel, Cherry Hill, NJ as their Rav.

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