An Israeli Story: The Shapira's of El-Matan

Rochel Sylvetsky,

Rochel Sylvetsky
Rochel Sylvetsky is Senior Consultant to Arutz Sheva's English site and serves as op-ed and Judaism editor. She is a former Chairperson of Emunah Israel (1991-96), CEO/Director of Kfar Hanoar Hadati Youth Village, member of the Emek Zevulun Regional Council and the Religious Education Council of Israel's Education Ministry. She has degrees in Mathematics and Jewish Education.

My late sister, Zisel (or Naomi as her husband insisted on calling her so that she would have a Hebrew name, upsetting my father z"l for whose mother she had been named in Yiddish) met her husband Moshe Shapira when he came to the United States for surgery to try to save the sight in his right eye.

Moshe's father had been the Rabbi of Pshitik, a town in Poland that became famous when Jews fought back in a pogrom that occurred after World War I. Moshe's father saw to it that the Jewish fighters got certificates to allow them to flee and enter what was then Palestine (there was no Palestinian people at the time). He stayed with his congregation and although he had bought land in Israel, he waited too long. He and his wife and a daughter were murdered by the Nazis. Two sons, Moshe and Meir and a daughter, Matya, survived.

Moshe and his brother Meir escaped from Dachau and got into Switzerland towards the end of WWII. They insisted, despite offers from their well-known rabbinic relatives in the USA, on going to Israel. Moshe was handed a rifle when he arrived at the start of the 1948 War of Independence and fought in the bloody battle of Latrun, about which Wikipedia notes "the combat at Latrun also carries a symbolic significance because of the participation of Holocaust survivors"

He was wounded and a piece of shrapnel entered his eye. Of his father's surviving congregants, those that were in Israel got together to send him to America for surgery. They didn't save his eye in the Golden Land, but he met my sister, Zisel (soon to become Naomi) an idealistic Zionist if there ever was one. They were married and moved to Israel in 1950. (Full disclosure: I was a child, but remember them leaving by ship). During the period when food was rationed in Israel, due to ingathering of exiles beyond fledgling Israel's ability to feed them, we sent them giant packages of food.

So far, we have one IDF wounded veteran whose parents were murdered by the Nazis in our saga. And one New York Zionist idealist, both in a tiny village in Israel. Not so unusual in the early days of the State of Israel. 

Moshe and Zisel had eight wonderful children, owned a farm in Kfar Pines (yes, my egghead sister who always had her head in a book, actually ran a chicken coop) and Moshe, always looking for ways to provide more for his family, became  a successful middleman for egg distribution, animal feed and various other business initiatives.  

Their eldest daughter, my niece Sarah, born in the USA, grew to become a well known figure in Israel's educational system and in the Jewish return to Judea and Samaria. She and her husband, Dr. Achiya Eliash, son of prominent figures in the Mizrachi organization, were among the founders of Kedumim in Samaria, she founded its prize winning girl's high school Lehava. She is another idealistic activist who became deputy head of the Council of Judea and Samaria, is now on the Jewish Home primary list.

All the other children grow up, and as they marry and go on to lead productive lives in different fields, several make their homes in Judea and Samaria.

We. the Sylvetsky aunt and uncle, come on aliya in 1971, miss only the first wedding and enjoy many happy occasions together. The Shapira grandchildren also grow up and marry, many living in Judea and Samaria. Zisel and Moshe live into their eighties, are buried on the Mount of Olives.

Moshe's brother, Meir, who survived WWII with him (see paragraph 3 above), has a son Elimelech Shapira, who is the rabbi of Peduel in Samaria. He has eight children, finds time to play the flute and travel early every morning to study Talmud for a few hours in Bnai Brak. A terrorist notices that regular car going by before dawn every day and ambushes him one morning in July 2002, murdering the gentle 43-year-old rabbi.

My nephew Yisrael, Moshe and Zisel's second child, is married to Rachel, a lawyer, and they have five children, live in Netanya. Rachel's late father, an accountant, was in a wheelchair after being wounded in the Six Day War, her brother was killed in the Yom Kippur War.

Yisrael and Rachel's eldest son, Avner, is named for him. 

Avner, a creative computer scientist, marries Rut(h) and the couple, both idealistic Zionists of Zisel's ilk, have five lovely daughters. The eldest, my sister's 11-year-old great grand-daughter, Ayala, is brilliant and mature, takes part in classes for the intellectually gifted at Bar Ilan University.

Mature enough to manage to open the seatbelt while the firebomb lobbed at the car window on Thursday night is setting her clothes and body afire on the way home from those classes with her father.  She rolls in the road after Avner yells at her to do so because flames are shooting up from her small figure. He runs to her, manages to dial his mobile for help, and manages to get her the 300 meter distance to their home 

He tells me the details in the hospital where I come on Sunday with my son, Avi (I remember how Avner would come to Jerusalem from Netanya and the two boys used to stay up all night learning Torah on Shavuot in our house from about grade 2 to the year they went to yeshiva high schools), telling us and obviously still hearing her screams at the agonizing pain of the burns that cover so much of her body.

Avner tells the Channel 2 team that in the army he learned that it is imperative to ignore emotions when in emergency situations and concentrate on getting the injured to where they can be treated. But now, days afterward, you can see that he still hears those screams of pain.

A neighbor and Rut rush Ayala to the MDA ambulance in nearby Maale Shomron where she is sedated and given first responder treatment. She is rushed to Sheba Medical Center. The ambulance that comes for Avner is delayed by the fire truck which has arrived to put out the fire blazing around the car.

The only road to El-Matan that the Supreme Court left open after closing the safe one that the Arabs claim (yet to be substantiated after ten years) is on their land, is one lane with a steep drop on one side and hills for ambushing on the other. That is why Avner couldn't turn the car around to flee when he saw the bomb in the air. He tried to beat it, but the barbarians aimed well. "They have practiced", he said bitterly, "these are trained soldier-terrorists."

It takes 20 minutes for them to be able to get by the fire fighting equipment and go on to the hospital, so if the neighbor had not rushed down the road with Ayala, there would have been no chance of her surviving. Avner's "light" wounds have his entire head bandaged, his right arm and torso bandaged and he will probably need grafts on his back. He must have suffered greatly during the time it took to get to the hospital, but he doesn't talk about it.

What he does say to Channel 2, whose newsmen arrive again while we are thereis food for thought from this normally reserved man of integrity: "It is time to 'change the disc', as they say in Hebrew" he states flatly, " time to change our way of looking at what is going on. These are not criminals, outcasts, deprived juvenile delinquents. They are accepted and encouraged in their villages. The same way our kibbutzim are proud of how many IDF commando soldiers they produce, these Arab villages are proud about how many terrorist soldiers they produce, those terrorists who help them fulfill their plan to get us out of all of Israel".

Yes, and our soldiers only go to war when they must, risking their lives to prevent harming civilians. Their soldiers go out with the express purpose of killing and maiming civilians, children included.

Ayala is in intensive care, still sedated and intubated, still in critical condition.  

Pray for my idealistic New York Zionist sister's great granddaughter, Ayala bat Rut.