This past Wednesday, Rabbi Shai Ohayon, 39, left his yeshiva in Kfar Saba a bit early to go to his home in Petach Tikva to buy groceries for his family of six. He was accompanied to the bus stop by his very close friend, Rav Yosef Dovid Mugrabi. They could not have imagined that this would be their last conversation.

Rabbi Shai got off the bus at the busy Segula Junction. An Arab assailant walking behind him stabbed him multiple times in his torso.

Rabbi Shai Ohayon, of blessed memory

Magen Dovid Adom paramedics arrived on the scene after receiving a call from a witness to the terrorist attack. Rabbi Shai was lying on the sidewalk bleeding, without a pulse and not breathing. They immediately began performing life-saving medical treatment. Resuscitation efforts continued on the ambulance that brought him to Belinson Medical Center, where Rabbi Shai passed away.

Kobi Fuchs, a resident of Petach Tikva, stated, “I arrived at the scene after the stabbing, when I saw a citizen chasing the stabber. The citizen shouted ’terrorist’ and knocked him down. The stabber didn’t manage to get far. The police came and arrested him.”

Hours after the attack, the victim’s father-in-law, Ofer Karaz, a resident of the moshav Sha’ar Efraim, reconstructed what he experienced. “I was sitting and reading the news from my phone. I read that the attack happened at 1:35 pm and that the victim was a religious Jew. I jumped up from the bed. I had the feeling that it was talking about my son-in-law. I tried calling him a number of times and he didn’t answer me. I tried again after five minutes and there was no answer. I called my daughter and she told me that he had spoken to my granddaughter Tohar at 1:30 pm and since then she hadn’t succeeded in reaching him.”

As the minutes passed and Karaz couldn’t reach his son-in-law, the worry became overwhelming. A while later a good friend of his son-in-law told him the horrific news.

Rabbi Ohayon with HaRav Ovadia Yosef, zt"l

Approximately 200 family members and friends of Rabbi Shai Ohayon gathered in the early hours of Thursday morning for his funeral. Only 40 were allowed in for the service due to coronavirus restrictions. The funeral was held in the Segula Cemetery, not far where the rabbi had been murdered.

Evyatar Cohen, a neighbor, eulogized, “He was a humble man, kind and quiet. It turns out there was a genius among us, and we didn’t know it. Only now, after his murder, I found out that he passed exams to be a city rabbi. It’s a great loss to us as a neighborhood, and to the people of Israel.”

Eulogizing his son-in-law, Karaz said, “People loved him very much. Everyone would come to hear his Torah lessons. People would say that the lessons could give goosebumps to those who heard them.”

The chief rabbi of Petach Tikva, Rabbi Micha Halevy said, “Here, at Segula Junction, your life’s work was targeted. Rabbi Shai, who was standing here until a few hours ago, was a shy person. But today everyone knows who he was. We want him to pray for all of us.”

Three years ago Rabbi Shai had moved with his family from Sha’ar Efraim, where his wife had grown up, to Petach Tikvah. He became a prominent figure in his neighborhood and would offer Torah classes to anyone who was interested.

I spoke to his aunt who lives a few blocks away from the Ohayon family. “The last time I saw Shai was on Sunday evening. I had gone over to their home to ask Shai a question about our family customs. We spoke for a while and then he said, ‘Excuse me, aunt, but I need to go pray.’ I waited for him to return home and then we spoke more. He was a Tzadik (a righteous person), a quiet person and very wise. He looked like his father, my late brother Avraham, and so seeing Shai would give me comfort.”

My son, Noam Chaim, is married to Shai’s first cousin. He told me, “After his father passed away in 2008, even though Shai wasn’t the oldest of the five children, he became the 'father' of the family. This was a tremendous help to all, especially to his mother Shula. One of his siblings has special needs and lives at home with his mother. Shai was very intelligent and had a quiet personality.”

At the funeral

His good friend, Rabbi Mugrabi, spoke with emotion to the press following the murder. “I met him 11 years ago when I came to the yeshiva to learn, and I was looking for someone who would teach me and direct me in my studies to obtain rabbinical ordination. I met my friend, of blessed memory. He was a holy man. He was an exemplary family man who cared for his children and his young wife.”

Rabbi Mugrabi spoke about how Shai managed to receive his rabbinic ordination while working to support his family at the same time. “He was determined, even though he didn’t have a college degree, to provide for his family with love, support and work. He was righteous; the Holy One took a holy man.”

His father-in-law described him, “He was an excellent son-in-law, a good father to his children and a good husband to his wife. He honored people, and my daughter Sivan always spoke only good about him and how he was so good to her. He was like a son to me. …It is so difficult to speak about him in the past tense.” Karaz said that his wife and Sivan are still in shock since receiving the devastating news, and they don’t know how to digest it.

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin expressed his sympathies to the family, “At this time, I send my condolences to the Ohayon family after receiving the terrible news about the murder of Rabbi Shai by the hands of a despicable terrorist. We’ve lost a man of the Torah, a spring of knowledge, a father, who left behind him four children who we embrace within our hearts. We won’t stop until the terrorist and those who helped him, face justice, and we won’t allow terrorism to lift its head. May he rest in peace.”

The attacker, Khalil Abd al-Khaliq Dweikat, 46, and a father of six, is from the village of Rujib near Nablus. After stabbing Rabbi Shai, the killer calmly walked away from the scene towards the Segula Junction where he was arrested by the police. The suspect was found with a blood-stained knife. He was handed over to the Shin Bet, the Israel Secret Service. Dweikat was in Israel with a legal work permit, working in construction and had no prior history of terrorist activities. Shin Bet investigators are looking into the suspect’s relatives and whether some of them knew about his intentions to commit a terror act. A preliminary investigation revealed that he suffered from mental disorders and had been recently treated by health and welfare officials in the Palestinian Authority.

Dweikat is an anomaly among Arab terrorists. It is highly unusual for Arab non-citizens with legal work permits to carry out attacks in Israel because they undergo background checks and regular screenings by Israeli security services. Moreover, it is uncommon for these kinds of attacks to be carried out by middle-aged men. Typically, Arab assailants are in their teens or 20s.

Rabbi Shai Ohayon was the first Israeli to be killed in a terrorist attack in almost a year. (There have been hundreds of attacks and many seriously wounded within this time.)

Rabbi Shai leaves behind his wife, Sivan, and their four children, Tohar (13), Hillel (11), Shilo (9) and Malachi (4). May God give them, his extended family and friends, much needed comfort.