In the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, the events of March 6, 2008, are etched like fire into the memories of students, teachers, and administrators – and, says Yeshiva Head, Rabbi Ya'akov Shapira, shlita, the massacre that took the lives of eight students from the Yeshiva and its high school has redoubled the determination of the entire Yeshiva community to forge ahead even more forcefully with its commitment to, as Rabbi Shapira told Arutz 7 in an exclusive interview, “the people of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the Land of Israel.”
The Arab terrorist who invaded the Yeshiva on that fateful night did not choose his target at random, says Rabbi Shapira; it was no accident that Alaa Abu Dhein attacked Mercaz Harav. “Our enemies have a sense of where our source of power is, and the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva is a spiritually powerful place, They were attacking not only the Yeshiva, but what we stand for – our love of Torah, the Land, and the Jewish people. They targetted our Yeshiva because of the legacy of Rav Kook. It was an attack not only on the body, but on the soul. They are right about our spiritual power, and the death of our precious students has only made us stronger.
This past Thursday, the Yeshiva held a memorial service for the eight young Torah scholars murdered by the the terrorist, on the third anniversary of the massacre, with Torah lectures and the recitation of special prayers. “Except that it was not a memorial service in the normal sense, where we remember the victims and then move on. We remember them every single day, and if we have an event in their memory, it is to remind us to redouble our efforts to remember them every other day of the year.”
Rav Shapira told how the Israel Magen David First Aid squad that arrived was warned that the terrorist, by then dead on the library floor, was probably wearing an explosive belt. Ignoring the danger, they rushed in to evacuate the wounded.
After the massacre, the Yeshiva instituted several additional study sessions dedicated to the youths, and has published numerous books in their memories. “We do much more than this as well, and our educational efforts are a great comfort to the families of the victims,” Rabbi Shapira said.
Education was also the reason Rabbi Shapira took an unprecedented trip to Russia at the request of the country's chief rabbi, last month. “I went to Russia in initiate a new educational project that I hope will strengthen the communities there,” he said. Those communities have been growing and thriving in ways that we could never have imagined. I traveled with Rav Goldschmidt, Russia's Chief Rabbi, to several towns out in the hinterlands – I found schools, mikvehs, synagogues, all the requirements for leading a complete Jewish life. It was very comforting to see this rebirth, after the Jews in Russia were persecuted for decades, and were given up for lost,” Rabbi Shapira said, adding that “this trip shows that there is great hope for the future.” He expressed the hope that this rebirth would lead to their desire to live in Israel.