Remembering Ari Halberstam, 18 Years Later

March 18, 2012 11:28 am 14 comments
Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp

The 'Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp' on the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Algemeiner

March 6 is a day that etched indelibly into my heart and soul.

In 1994, my son Ari was shot by a by a terrorist on the Brooklyn Bridge on March 1. Five days later, he died. I cannot believe that he is dead longer than he lived.

Only a mother who lost her child could imagine how, 18 years later, grief can be as fresh today as it was then. It’s as if a bone is lodged in your throat choking you, not allowing you to breathe. You feel the squeezing in your heart, like it will explode, suffocating you because you’re deprived of air.

I attended the trial of my son’s murderer every day. Listening to the testimony, I would see an image in my mind of a faucet and the blood of my son flowing. He was murdered as a living, breathing human being, because someone hated who he was, what he stood for and who he represented. He was a Jew. He was an American. I still cannot understand that. If you would have told Ari that someone murdered him because he was a Jew, he would have never believed you. Ari could never fathom hatred so deep, so vengeful, to cause anyone to be murdered.

A ceremony to remember Ari Halberstam, with family members and New York officials. Halberstam was killed by an Islamic gunman on the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: MAISEL, TODD

It is important to me that the world knows who my Ari was: a charming, handsome, smart, all-American 16-year-old; a 6-foot-tall star on the basketball court wearing a size 131/2 sneaker. He had a permanent smirk on his face, not because he was a snob, but simply because he had the coolest sense of humor. He could mimic anybody to the point where I would laugh until I cried. He had a sparkle and twinkle to his deep-sea blue eyes. He didn’t walk down the street, he glided. He didn’t climb the stairs; he jumped two at a time. He was smooth and graceful as a deer. Focused on where he was going, Ari would fly with ease down the street.

My child. My baby. He was like a fleeting dream. Like a star in the sky. I wake in the night more often than not, with an acute pounding in my heart so loud that I hear it in my ears. My pain only deepens when I think about what kind of man he would have become.

I hear Ari calling me “Mommy.” I hear the sound of his voice every day, all the time. His name is on the tip of my tongue. He is in every fiber of my being, always. He is with me wherever I go and is the driving force of a lot of what I do.

I am a religious Jew. And, as I light candles every Friday night for the Sabbath, I pray that Ari’s memory live on. From the moment my Ari was murdered, I began praying that he be remembered; that his death not be in vain; that the world remember who Ari Halberstam was, what he lived for, and why he died. That is this mother’s mission.

It is some comfort that his memory lives on. It took nearly seven years for my country to acknowledge that he was an early victim of terrorism.

Yes, thanks to New York City there is the Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge. There is Ari’s Law, which traces gun trafficking in New York State. There is the landmark Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn that is dedicated to him and has hosted more than 1 million visitors. There are the New York State laws on terrorism that were inspired by his death, and the deaths of the other victims of terrorism in the state.

But in the end, I am Ari’s mother. And mothers are one with their children. We may be in separate bodies, but our source is the same. Our connection never falters. Not in life and not in death.

Mourning and grieving for your child is like nothing else in the world. We are so sorely misunderstood. I know it is a cliche to talk about the hole in my heart. But it’s an anguish so deep and intense that it never lets go. It is everlasting. It is like a chronic disease.

It is about the life that Ari never had. The joys of waking up every day to look out the window and see the sun shining. The chance to develop into the best person he could be. To play another basketball game. To fulfill his dreams. To conquer the world. To live and love. To smile and laugh. To have married and had children. To share his life with his family and friends. To hope and to pray.

He never even had a chance.

In Judaism, the number 18 is symbolic of life. As this year marks the 18th anniversary of Ari’s death, I am charged with renewed emotion and commitment. Even in death there’s life.

My friends, my colleagues, to those who knew him and to those who never did: Please think about him. There are no words of comfort for us who mourn our children.

The truth is I can go on and on, but it is not fair. And so I will climb back into myself and yearn for my lost child.

While there are public memorials to Ari that help to keep his memory alive, I take comfort when I see echoes of his essence in his wonderful sisters and brothers. They all loved their big brother deeply and were influenced by him in so many ways. And yes, I am blessed. I have three beautiful grandchildren named Ari (and several others). They can never replace my oldest son, but with G-d’s help, they will make their own unique contributions to this world in his name and his memory.

All I ask of you is that you remember Ari.

Devorah Halberstam is the director of Foundation and Government Services at the Jewish Children’s Museum, which is dedicated to the memory of her son Ari.

14 Comments

  • dearest debora and ari,shalom oubracha,for the first time ever i read every word with full attention , after being in jerusalem 26 years , with its countless terrorists acts ,it reminds me of the tears of one mother in Egypt , and GOD Allmighty got us out of all the nightmare…i have no clue what is to be a mother , and that is enough for me to imagine that only Hashem can wipe away your tears and suffocation…less than that i cannot imagine..
    sincere best wishes and regards .

  • He was a beautiful and talented boy, beloved by many. We all remember him, too.

  • Debbie Schwartz

    I met you in Crown Heights more than 22 years ago, you were such a vibrant inspiration! I remember your son, many of us do, there’s no way to forget. Wish I could hug you & comfort you, sending you love! I lost my father when I was 2, deep down I was inconsolable, hoping somehow he’d just walk back in the house one day & all would be ok. Some comfort finally came when I learned about techiyas ha meisim, either in this world or the next, we WILL all be together again, and this time forever! When I can through the pain, focus on that one thing, it opens up my heart to a waterfall of comfort that his soul is alive, and with me, and we WILL be together again forever one day, may that be soon! Praying this will also fill your heart and ease some of the corners of the pain. Sending much love & sisterly hugs!

  • Jackie Schiff

    Dear Mrs Halberstam,
    We remember.
    Stern Graduate 1986
    Jackie Schiff

  • I do so express my with Mind and Heart that I am sorry for your loss. I to have been the Target of Hatred in the guise of the A.B. white organization and the KKK in the south. It is Fools that destroy themselves along with Innocents like your Son that I truely beleive Hashem has something waiting for them at the end of their Journey in this world. I speak from botyh an observant Qaballistic sense here. Sholom Aleikhem

  • B’SD
    JDO

    May the slaughter of Ari Halberstam ZT”L by the radical Islamic nazis like Rashid Baz be avenged .
    JDO
    http://www.jewihdefense.org

  • Dear Mrs. Halberstam,

    My name is Lexah Ashlee, and I want you to know that this post moved me so much, I decided to write a blog post about it on my own blog, as well as to learn in Ari’s name this Shabbat, while imploring others to do the same. I write a blog that is dedicated to using words to bring about tikkun olam, and I invite you to check out the post that I wrote in memory of your son: http://thewriteworld.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/in-memory-of-ari-halberstam-זל/.

    Your words, in remembrance of your son, have made an impact upon me. May his memory continue to be as a blessing, now and forever.

  • It is too much…only Moshiach/Hashem can wipe the tears from the eyes and comfort the heart of a mother…

  • You should be comforted among the mourners of Zion. May Hashem watch over you and your family.

  • Mark D. Friedman

    I am a member of the Chabad congregation of Tacoma, Washington, where Zalman Heber is our greatly admired rabbi. He was a close friend of Ari, and as you know our shul is named after him. He speaks often of Ari, and at length this most recent Shabbos. I am so, so sorry for you loss. Ari will never be forgotten in the hearts of our congregation and in similar ones around the world. May this be of some small comfort to you. My greatest sympathies and love for you as a fellow Jew go out to you.

  • Gábor Fränkl

    Beautiful, beautiful writing. From an ocean away in Budapest, Hungary, Central-Eatern Europe I salute you and bow deeply before you, mother!

  • miriam nockenofsky

    my heart cries for your sorrow, and as i dont understand what it means to lose a child , i too have lost a loved one, my little sister. my wish to you is that the one above bring moshiach very soon, so that we may be reunited with our loved ones and the geulah should come speedily!!!

  • I remember that dark day… I cried when I sew it on TV.
    May the family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion! Amen!

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