Miriam and Yitro Asheri, sitting shiva in their Itamar home.
Miriam and Yitro (left) sit facing Rabbi Avichai Ronsky, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Rabbi Chaim Druckman.
The visitors crane their necks to hear the conversation between the bereaved parents and Dichter, who formerly headed the General Security Service (Shabak). Both mother and father are soft-spoken, but Yitro looks in Dichter’s eyes and asks earnestly, "The land belongs to the Jewish nation; when will we begin to act accordingly?"
Incoming IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronsky and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter in the Asheri home.
Dichter, wearing a kippa, nods and lowers his eyes, promising to bring to justice everyone responsible for Eliyahu's murder. He was not just saying it; less than 24 hours later, three of the men who murdered Eliyahu were taken into custody.
Miriam looks strong and resolute, just as she did on national television in the days when her son’s kidnappers’ false claims that Eliyahu was still alive were being used in a vain attempt to induce the IDF to leave Gaza. She had addressed her son's captors, reminding them that they too have children.
Now in mourning, Miriam recalls her final moments with her son, including shared words, anecdotes and more distant memories. "Parents should know that every Sabbath eve, when they bless their children, it is a celebration of the gift that G-d has granted you in the past week of having the miracle that is each child," she tells a neighbor who has come to comfort her.
Miriam Asheri with a neighbor.
In Eliyahu's last conversation with his parents, he mentioned that he had accidentally said vidui, a confessional prayer, on Sunday afternoon, forgetting that it is not recited on the eve of Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the Jewish month. Jews do, however, recite the prayer on their deathbed. “The soul knows everything,” Yitro says.
Itamar was Home
The Asheris have lived in Itamar for 14 years. For Yitro, Itamar was the final stop on a long journey to Judaism and the Land of Israel. "When I was 12, I sat in church and realized it just wasn't it," he recalled. He began exploring Eastern religions seriously when he was 16, and by 22 he had joined an Australian volunteer organization and moved to Papua New Guinea.
Yitro Asheri, with the ripped shirt of a mourner.
After volunteering in New Guinea, he went on to volunteer at an Israeli collective community, the secular Kibbutz Hatzerim. "There I witnessed the simple morality of the kibbutz members, who were not religious but had a deep moral way about them,” Yitro said.
“A salami was stolen from the kitchen one night and it was proposed that the storage room be locked. It was voted down because they said, ‘How can we live together if we don't trust one another.’ I began asking people where Jewish morality comes from and was eventually given a copy of Pirkei Avot [Ethics of our Fathers - a mishnaic tract recording lessons in ethics from the foremost conveyors of Torah throughout the generations –ed.]. It was like water for a thirsty heart."
Yitro returned to Adelaide, Australia, where he began studying Judaism, but was encouraged by members of the small Jewish community to return to Israel as soon as possible to learn more. He went to the religious Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, which had a conversion program as well as an intensive Hebrew study program.
Yitro knew Israel was now his home and went on to study in Jerusalem's Machon Meir yeshiva. There he was introduced to Miriam, who had recently become observant and was very close with the family of Rabbi Chaim Druckman, who heads the Bnei Akiva school system and introduced the two.
While in Machon Meir, Yitro was given his first taste of the mountains of Samaria. He and a handful of fellow students came to the nascent Itamar to plant the first organic crop there - myrtle branches for the Sukkot holiday. They also dug a ritual bath that today serves the entire community. After living in Kiryat Malachi for a few years, the Asheris moved to Itamar.
A Boy Who Made You Joyous
Eliyahu was an indigenous member of the Itamar community, hiking every corner of the region while losing some friends to the frequent terrorist attacks that have plagued the small town. He attended elementary school there, went to middle school in neighboring Elon Moreh, and then high school at the prestigious Or Etzion yeshiva high school near Ashkelon.
Today his friends mope about the Asheris’ yard, watching the older visitors talk about Eliyahu with his parents. "He made you literally joyous just by being near him," a neighbor told Yitro. “The vacuum without him is so strong.”
Eliyahu's friends and siblings gathered in the yard.
Eliyahu decided to leave high school a year early and take his matriculation exams while at the Elisha pre-military academy near N'vei Tzuf. Yitro believes his son underwent a transformation during his year at Elisha.
“He just kept removing mask after mask, searching deeper into himself for the genuine real Eliyahu,” Yitro said. He recalls his son’s struggles and growth with the admiration of a father who succeeded in teaching his son to emulate his search and not necessarily his destination. “The irrigated olive tree cannot be compared to the tree that strives for its water,” he says. “Eliyahu struggled for knowledge and dealt with the toughest questions that a human being can face.”
The Sabbath before his murder, the entire Asheri family was together in Itamar. “It was supposed to just be a small thing to celebrate finishing his first year at mechina (pre-military academy), but his older sister said, ‘No way can it just be a small thing,’ and everyone came to the house for Shabbat. In hindsight, it was our parting Shabbat with him.”
The fateful journey
After Shabbat, Eliyahu left his home to speak with a close confidant in the Gush Etzion town of Beitar Illit. He left Beitar at 7 PM Sunday night to head toward his pre-military academy, where he and his classmates were to embark on an end-of-the-year hike together in northern Israel.
He arrived at the French Hill hitch-hiking stand in northern Jerusalem at 9 PM and got a ride to the Givat Assaf T-Junction, at the turn-off to Beit El from Highway 60. He then caught another ride to the town of Ofrah. It was at the Ofrah hitching post where Eliyahu was seen getting into a van.
The Ofrah hitch-hiking post where Eliyahu Asheri was kidnapped.
The Arab man driving the van was dressed like a religious Jew, but after turning onto route 465 towards N'vei Tzuf, the driver took an early turn down a side road toward Bir Zeit. Bir Zeit is home to one of the Palestinian Authority’s main universities, built with help from the Israeli government in the hope that it would breed moderation.
Immediately, Asheri was brutally murdered, either in Bir Zeit or in nearby Bituniya. He was shot at close range, with a pillow used to muffle the sound. The terrorists buried him hastily under loose dirt and large stones.
The driver of the vehicle was caught Wednesday, in an IDF operation in Ramallah. Three others were caught several days later.
“We have our pain,” says Yitro, “but we know that G-d has a job for Eliyahu; that He needs him closer for something much more important. We must truly accept the bad just as we thank Him for the good.”
Miriam speaks to visitors.
He loved the Land and G-d of Israel
Eliyahu Asheri, together with his siblings, were among the thousands of youths who made their way into Gaza despite the IDF-imposed closure ahead of the forced expulsion of Jews from the 21 towns there last summer.
“He was in the synagogue at N’vei Dekalim,” his father recalls. “And you know what is most remarkable about Eliyahu? The intense fiery prayer that took place in that synagogue – imagine that kind of prayer three times a day. That was Eliyahu.”
Prayer is a theme that inevitably came up in every eulogy at Eliyahu’s funeral. Friends and family all recalled the fervor and earnest way with which he prayed and spoke of the power of prayer.
The family read an essay Eliyahu wrote at his funeral, which they say is a letter he left for all the Jewish people. The following is a translation:
"The prayer that you pray three times each day brings you closer to the Master of the World, connecting you each time anew. When you rise in the morning, look around and see how wonderful this world that G-d gave you is and thank Him for it.
"And during Shacharit [the morning prayer], when all of nature is waking from its slumber, the human rises and prays and directs his or her heart, spirit and soul toward the Creator of the World and through this provides rest to the soul, which at the time of prayer ventures outward a bit, exposing its truest will to you, and you must know to ask of G-d what is upon your heart.
"And also through hitbodedut (solitude/meditation), when you cut yourself off from the surroundings and be with yourself, you basically see what you want to and are unaffected by your surroundings and you request from G-d your true wishes.
"The importance of prayer is the utmost, such that prayer replaced the Temple sacrifices, which were said to give G-d 'satisfaction' (Leviticus 1:9). There is the tradition that when Moses was told by G-d that he would not enter the Land of Israel, he prayed before Him 515 prayers to be allowed to enter the Land... until G-d told him to stop praying, because He had decreed that Moses would not enter. He allowed him to pray because He desired his prayers and desires the prayer of all righteous people.
"It is written 'Your nation are all righteous,' so pray, because you are righteous and G-d desires your prayers.
"We must 'Perfect the world under the Kingdom of the Almighty.' The first thing the Nation of Israel must do is perfect ourselves, to become an example to the nations of the world. How do we fix ourselves? Through prayer and return to true service of G-d, because when you are real with yourself and are true in your way, others will go after you.
"In conclusion, always serve G-d with joy and always know to seek Him at every time. Always strive to be free to do the will of the Blessed Creator and to perfect yourself and be true with G-d and with yourself. 'You shall be simple with HaShem your G-d,' (Deuteronomy 18:13) and they will go after you because this is the truth."
Eliyahu's sister Tzippora holds a picture of her brother.
(Photos: Josh Shamsi, Arutz-7 Photojournalist)