Remembering Mercaz Harav Massacre on Tisha B’Av


A video on terrorist attacks by the OneFamily fund and a Powerpoint presentation bookended a Tisha B’Av lecture by Naftali Moses, memorializing his son, one of eight young people murdered in a 2008 pre-Purim terrorist attack at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

More than 150 men and women filled the seats of the cool, dimly lit ballroom at the White Shul in Far Rockaway. The presentation was entitled “The Strength to Speak in the Face of Pain: A Father Remembers his Murdered Son.”

Moses, author of “Mourning Under Glass: Reflection on a Son’s Murder,” spoke for OneFamily, a volunteer-based organization that strives to rehabilitate and aid victims of terror, helping them emotionally and financially to reintegrate into society.

The film showed footage of terror attacks in Israel, focusing on individual accounts of victims and survivors and the help they received from OneFamily. It noted that one out of every 250 families in Israel has been affected by terrorism.

Moses methodically recounted the murder of his son: Three young students — 18-year-old Yonadav Hirshfeld and two 16 year olds — were talking in the courtyard of Mercaz HaRav, waiting for the rosh chodesh Adar party when they noticed an Arab carrying a large box. He put down the box and pulled out a Kalachnikov assault rifle, a combat vest, two pistols and 200 rounds of ammunition.

The Arab shot Yonadav who ran into the dorm, ; he was later found dead on the steps.

The Arab shot the other two at point-blank range. The terrorist entered the library and shot a 26 year old Ethiopian student who had been determined to learn Torah, and was preparing for his smicha exam. The terrorist then hunted down four other students, among them Avrohom David Moses, who hid in the stacks in the library. They were studying masechet megilah to make a siyum at the Purim meal. Moses said that he has “difficulty attempting to keep my son’s memory alive” that “memory has some kedusha (holiness)’ and thus can also be “defiled” but “despite the distortion of time, memory persists.”

The massacre was on Thursday evening; Friday morning there were two funerals, one at the yeshiva and then one at each family’s burial site. The yeshiva set out eight pairs of benches from the yeshiva “like beds,” Moses said. The benches that held the youth studying Torah, so alive, now held the bodies on stretchers, wrapped in Talitot, the outline of the bodies visible through the wool. As each name was called a cry from each family rent the air. More than a hundred yeshiva students stood as tears ran down their cheeks and they howled for each victim. Moses cried for them and for his oldest son, he said.

When the Mercaz HaRav families gathered, they discussed how they each heard of the attack. Between 8 pm and midnight they had the same experience, hearing the report on the radio, searching the Internet, vainly trying to place phone calls. “Each option closed off, leading to the inescapable conclusion that their son was among those killed.”

He said that it shouldn’t have happened and shouldn’t happen but “without going through the experience, it is almost impossible to think of it—the loss of a child.” He wrote the story “compelled to open the window of bereavement that we had gone through.”

He pointed out that his son and his son’s chevruta were killed together and had been learning together since fifth grade. They died in tenth grade. They were said to have given their teachers “trouble,” knowing much more than their teacher. A spoof film of the boys showed them reading from comic books—but inside the books were hidden gemaras.

“The memory is all I have left of my first born boy,” he said. He was “thrust into a macabre celebrity, losing who he was as an individual.” A Powerpoint presentation of photos of Avraham David z”l as an infant and as he grew up, like a bar mitzvah video, ended with the grim photos of the aftermath of the massacre, the weapons used, the blood. Moses said that he was a beautiful boy, blond hair. blue eyes. He had committed much to memory and knew three sedarim of mishna by heart. Avraham David was dedicated to learning Torah and was learning gemarah bechevruta 16 hours a day. “Another victim of Arab terror,” the father said, mourning “his lost chance of what he might become.”

OneFamily was founded by the Belzberg family. Michal Belzberg was getting ready for her bat mitzvah in Jerusalem when a suicide bomber blew up the Sbarro restaurant in 2001 killing 15 and wounding 130 men, women and children. Michal canceled her party and donated the funds for the celebration to the victims of the attack and encouraged family and friends to also donate what they would have given her. Michal and her family raised more than $100,000, but feeling that this was not enough founded OneFamily. Since then, the organization has assisted thousands of terror victims in Israel.

“It’s a club that no one wants to belong to,” stressed Moses. “Members wish to turn back the clock.” He noted the OneFamily Fund helps them “find comfort in that, no matter what, they are not alone.”

Moses told the Jewish Star that he spoke on Tisha B’av since it is “ a day of remembering different things and trying to do something with the memories and take them forward, not to forget.” He referenced the psalm “al naharot bavel” how people respond to a tragedy, how the leviim hung up their instruments and the Babylonians forced them to play music, but that the captive Jews stated that “we want to remember how we want to remember not how you want us to remember.”