Reprinted with permission from the Jerusalem Post.
Two weeks ago, a photograph of a bright, young soldier appeared in the Jerusalem Post alongside an article about how his mother, with the assistance of some generous strangers, had helped to feed him and his 34 comrades serving in Nablus. Yesterday, that same soldier's photograph graced the front page, albeit in far more heartrending and painful circumstances.
Sgt. Ari Joshua Weiss of the Nahal Brigade was just three weeks short of his 22nd birthday when he was shot and killed by Palestinian terrorists on Monday during a fierce gun battle in Nablus. Another soldier, Shai Haim, was badly wounded in the exchange of fire. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
Weiss, whose father Rabbi Stewart Weiss is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana and a Jerusalem Post columnist, made aliya with his family from Dallas, Texas, a decade ago. Weiss is survived by his parents, five siblings, and his maternal grandparents, both of whom are Holocaust survivors.
Any time that a young life is snuffed out in the line of duty is, of course, a cause for inconsolable grief, something with which this country has become all too familiar these past two years.
While parents elsewhere are accustomed to seeing their children off to college or a career at 18, Israeli mothers and fathers must send their young men and women off to a war that was forced upon them.
But Weiss' untimely death in uniform carries with it an additional component, one that many of us often do not sufficiently appreciate the enormous sacrifice that immigrants have made in helping to build and defend this land.
Like so many other Western immigrants, the Weiss family left behind the comforts and familiarity of their birthplace. They packed their belongings, left their families, and set out to live their dream: to build the State of Israel.
It wasn't long before they rose to prominence in the Ra'anana community, delivering food to the needy, organizing classes and seminars, or assisting other new immigrants in overcoming the challenges of absorption and acculturation. Rabbi Weiss, together with his wife Susie, strove to enrich the society around them, whether by bringing guest speakers of national renown to lecture, or by offering pre-holiday educational programs.
But, like other immigrants, the Weisses brought more than just their own talents and energies to this country. They brought their family, and their future, with them as well. Despite the risks, and irrespective of the difficulties, they chose to make this their home, and there was nothing which made them prouder than to see their eldest son don the uniform of the IDF, the Jewish people's army.
Like any native-born couple, the Weiss family lived with the daily worries and fears, listening intently to the news, and praying for the safety and well-being of their son and his comrades. But whereas for many parents, army service is part of the standard track to adulthood, for the Weiss family, and other immigrants like them, it embodies far more. It is part of the process of becoming truly Israeli, and of fully participating in the various joys and sorrows that come with it.
In a column which appeared on April 14, Rabbi Weiss poignantly captured these feelings when he wrote about his childhood friend, Rabbi Aryeh Weiss of Kiryat Arba, whose son had been killed in action: "With each day's new list of victims, we hold our breath as we hear the latest casualty reports. Will we recognize the name? Will the attack have been on a bus route we frequent? Will the soldier hail from our town? For those of us with boys in the army, we grip the wheel a little tighter, and perk our ears up each hour on the hour."
"Each time a soldier breathes his last," Rabbi Weiss noted in conclusion, "each time a hero is slain in the noble war against terror, a little bit of each of us dies with him."
The same can be said for Ari Weiss, his beloved son. He died a hero's death, defending his people and his land. And along with him, a little bit of each of us died too. May his memory be for a blessing.
A selfless friend to all those he met
By Ze'ev Bielski, the mayor of Ra'anana
On Tuesday, with pain in our hearts and tears in our eyes, we accompanied your son, grandson, and brother Ari on his final journey, 10 years after you made aliya from Dallas in the US.
I, who was born here, never had the opportunity to make that choice. It was always obvious to me that this is my country and my homeland. You made aliya out of choice.
But you didn't just come to live here. As soon as you arrived in Ra'anana, you began making a contribution to the community. Rabbi Weiss, your work in outreach and strengthening Jewish traditions has brought a new spirit to Ra'anana.
Ari was just 21 when he fell a wonderful son who loved and cherished his family, a true, loyal, and selfless friend to all those he met at school, yeshiva, and the army. A man who lived according to the values of Torah and Eretz Yisrael, always ready to help others, to stay on the base on Shabbat and festivals so that others could go home.
Succot was a happy time for Ari, as he was able to spend time with his grandparents, Andor and Leah Klein, who came from America to be with the family. He was already planning his post-army trip with friends to the States to visit his grandparents only nine months and 22 days left...
Just two weeks ago, Ari's smiling face shone out of the pages of The Jerusalem Post. At his side were his mother Susie, younger brother Yedidya, and youngest sister Ayelet. I read the article with admiration. I read about Ari, who filled his pockets with a halla and candies and a mahzor for the Rosh Hashana stakeout in Nablus. I read about Susie, who found a way to sweeten his unit's stay on the front line. In an operation that took several hours, she managed to enlist the help of several businesses in Ra'anana to provide Ari and his fellow soldiers with generous quantities of food and drink.
The ways of Hashem are hidden, and not one of us from the thousands of people present at the funeral from Ra'anana and beyond has the answer to the difficult questions we carry in our heart. But I feel stronger when I witness the faith that strengthens you and your family. Susie and Stewart, I stand before you and your wonderful family with my head bowed. Your son Ari fell for Kiddush Hashem. The war against our enemies is not over. Unfortunately, our neighbors have not yet recognized that we have come here to build a home for us and future generations.
We, the descendants of Holocaust survivors, try to hold on to this small piece of land, the only land we have, the Land of Israel. And you, dear family, have given the most precious gift of all for the sake of the people of Israel.
May Ari's name be a blessing.
A LETTER TO FRIENDS
By Ari Harrow
I sit down to write this, red-eyed, after another long day of tears. Today I buried one of my former campers. Ari Weiss z"l, a 22 year old Nachal soldier who made aliyah nine years ago, was shot and killed by terrorists while searching for weapons in Shechem. Ari was really a great guy. I can't think of a time that I spoke to Ari that he didn't have a smile on his face, good times and bad. As Ari outgrew camp, I still had the honor of bumping into him on numerous occasions, and was always met with a big hug and that smile.
Ari was the 13th person that I've buried this year. First it was my cousin, then my high school teacher, then a friend, then a neighbor. The list goes on, but now you can add a camper. When will this nightmare, that we in Israel have lived through these last two years, end?
At the funeral, Ari's father and brother both spoke about what an honor and a Kiddush Hashem it was that Ari had died in protection of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. The utter belief and true love for Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael that Ari exemplified in life and death, and that emanated from his family, was truly a source of strength for all those that know Ari and the Weiss family.
As I stood before Ari's grave, I could not believe that we were going through this again! Yehuda, Karen, Avraham, David, Rachel, Neriya, etc. And now Ari. How much of this can we take?
Then I think of all my friends living in Chutz La'aretz, living outside the Land of Israel, and I am truly comforted, for I am the lucky one. As Rabbi Weiss said, Ari had the HONOR of serving his people and his country, as did all the hundreds of other people who have fallen on our behalf over the past two years. The pain that I feel stems from my deep attachment to my people and my land. Every Jew killed here is a dagger in my heart, but it is a heart connected to a precious body.
Living in NY or LA, London or Rome, your worries might be easier to cope with, but by and large they are your worries alone, not those of your people.
Ari Weiss z"l loved the people of Israel and the Land of Israel, and was willing to sacrifice his life for it. The sacrifice involved in leaving the comforts of America for the honor of living in Israel amongst your people is miniscule in comparison.
Our people are being slaughtered on a daily basis. Is sending a check, going on a solidarity trip to Israel really enough? Is there more that could be done? May I make a radical suggestion? Make aliyah and join your people.
May Ari z"l's death be a wake up call to Jews around the world. It's time to come home. Hopefully this will then be the last death we have to bear.