Worldwide video chat remembers terror victim Ezra Schwartz


Gaby Benelyahu

SOLIDARITY: Students watch broadcast of Ezra Schwartz’s shloshim in gym Dec. 21. Schools watching around the world could see one another.

By Sadie Toczek, Staff Writer

Shalhevet students gathered in the gym Dec. 21 to take part in a siyum with yeshivas across the world via Skype in honor of Ezra Schwartz, z”l.

Ezra was a graduate of Maimonides Academy in Boston, who during his gap year at the Yeshivat Ashreinu in Bet Shemesh was murdered by terrorists Nov. 19 on his way to clean up a park dedicated to the memories of three boys murdered in June of 2014.

In honor of his shloshim – the 30-day mark after his death – yeshiva students from many cities watched on the ceremony on a divided screen so they could all see and hear one another. Rabbis who knew Ezra — and some who did not – spoke about the meaning of his life and even his death. 

As seen on screens in the Shalhevet gym, every school was attentive and silent paying their respects to his family and everyone touched by him.

Rabbi Efram Goldberg of the Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida shared a poem called “The Dash,” by Linda Ellis, about savoring the time you have between your birth and death. This is represented by the dash on your tombstone.  A student from Rabbi Goldberg’s congregation was in the van with Ezra when it was attacked.

 “None of us know how long we’ll live, bow long we’ll live,”Rabbi Goldberg said.

“But we can control the way we live each and every day, following [Ezra’s] model to live life to its fullest, with kindness and sensitivity, caring about people around us, with having a contagious smile that lifts the life of others.”

The schools involved included Frisch (New Jersey), Ida Crown (Chicago), RASG Hebrew Academy (Miami Beach), MTA/YU High School for Boys (New York), Yeshiva High School (Boca Raton) and YULA boys school (Los Angeles) in addition to Shalhevet.

In preparation for the ceremony, schools learned several mishnayot in Ezra’s memory. Six schools each had a student read and translate one mishna for the rest of the audience.

Rabbi Gotch Yudin, head of Ezra’s yeshiva, delivered a d’var torah that touched on an idea called ahavat chinam — unreasoned caring for one another. Though his voice broke and he was fighting back tears, he managed to speak about his love for Ezra, and how it is said that any righteous person even after their death, is still alive after he has died.

“Ezra Schwartz, no question, in my mind falls into this category,” Rabbi Yudin said.

“Ezra’s ultimate legacy of being someone who is so friendly and looking to make some laugh — this is Ezra in every way, shape or form and the idea of ahavat chinam.” 

Ezra’s mother, Mrs. Ruth Schwartz of Sharon, Mass., also spoke briefly.

“We are so proud of Ezra,” Mrs. Schwartz said. “He was smart, fun, silly, loving and a generous person. We hope to keep his memory alive by good deeds and acts of kindness.” 

The siyum included over 40 high schools from across North America as well as numerous schools that did not participate in the learning but did watch.

“I was awestruck and inspired,”said freshman Talia Gill. “What stuck with me was how amazing it was that tens of schools came together to honor Ezra and the Schwartzes.” 

At the close of the program, Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal led the school in Hatikvah and “Acheinu.”Students linked arms, swayed to the music and sang a loud in unison.

“This was achdus [unity] in the most palpable, tangible, inspiring way,” said Rabbi Segal, who had traveled to Massachusetts to visit Ezra’s family during shiva. “Notwithstanding the excruciating circumstances which brought it about, this gathering was uplifting beyond words.”