A Tale of Two Funerals
In the last two weeks, I had the painful privilege of attending two major funerals.
The first was that of Irving Moskowitz, the wealthy American doctor who, along with his wife, Cherna, became the patron of building in eastern Jerusalem, Hebron, Acre and Ariel, and was involved in countless projects, reclamations, charities and educational institutions. By one unofficial estimation, 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 Kook, and first IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, in the heart of eastern Jerusalem. His funeral did not have the atmosphere of a tragedy. It was, rather, 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. Hallel was murdered by a 19-year-old jihadist from the Arab village of Bani Naim. He scaled a wall and jumped through a window of the Ariel family home, set within the vineyards of Kiryat Arba. The murderer found little Hallel sleeping in her bed, defenseless, stabbed her multiple times, and then ran looking for a next victim until a member of the local Rapid Response Team ended his life with a bullet. Hallel was buried in the ancient cemetery of Hebron, where many other Jewish victims of jihadist terror rest along with Jewish luminaries, not far from the Cave of Machpela, the Tomb of the founding patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people. Unlike the Moskowitz funeral, this one was not a celebration of a 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 cake were faux; only the top tier was real, 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 attended by 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 that was liberated in the Six Day War.
Hallel Yaffa’s contributions were, on the other hand, more modest. She was the oldest girl in the broader family, a natural leader to her siblings and many cousins, and a dance performer — her dance teacher’s eulogy at the funeral was one of the most painful testimonies to her young life. Yet at her funeral, some of the very same activists, ministers and VIPs who had been present at the Moskowitz funeral were in attendance. This time, they came not to celebrate a life well lived, but to commiserate with a salt-of-the-earth family, a victim of a despicable crime perpetrated by people 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 $50,000 donation to cover debt. Then I translated for an Arab man who works with reclamation organizations in Jerusalem. He blessed Cherna with 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 would continue his work, and that his sons after him would, as well, “all the way until the Temple is built in Jerusalem.” Finally, I translated for 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 took only 10 minutes to convince Moskowitz to do this, 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 minutiae, 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 he had formed a shadow government of activists around him, who ran ahead, created facts on the ground, and then allowed the government to catch up.
At Hallel Yaffa’s shiva, there was frustration and pain. Important politicians — the prime minister, 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 to them. 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 it at the peace table while it is the source of the greatest incitement against us?
The shiva was dominated by the haunting sounds of Rena, the vocal, loving mother, grasping a poster-size photo of her child, Hallel, whose sweetness came right through. Rena kept asking aloud about the Palestinian mother who lauded her son for committing the heinous murder. “I raised my daughter to love, and you raised your son to hate – why?” She also said: “The minute I get up from mourning, I will already have to go console others,” referring to Rabbi Michael (Miki) Mark, the father-of-ten who was murdered in a shooting attack on Friday — the day after Hallel was killed — not far away. And the question on everyone’s mind was: When will this terror stop, and will the government, which is in charge of Israel’s security, act?
But the politicians had 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 were already approved once before. Local Arab jihadists recently murdered Abraham Chasno, two members of the Litman family, Gennady Kaufman, and now Hallel Yaffa and Rabbi Mark — but there was no sense of rage or urgency in the government’s actions in the Hebron region. At the shiva house, the prime minister and 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 rights 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 Irving Moskowitz and Hallel Yaffa Ariel stood for Jewish courage that will not succumb to bullying from outside forces, or yield to sloth from within.
May their memory be a blessing and an inspiration to all of us.