Segev Avichayil and Avraham David Moses were studying Torah together in their high school library when the Israeli-Arab terrorist gunned them down, drenching their books in their blood.
“Segev had never even seen violence,” his father, a rabbi, told those who came to pay their respects at his home in Neve Daniel, in Gush Etzion. “We had no TV or VCR.”
Segev, 15, was already a poet, writing complex composition contemplating the soul. His father found a poem of Segev's on his desk the night of the murders. The esoteric composition speaks of a row of souls, evincing imagery of the rows of bodybags that lay outside the yeshiva’s library following the massacre. The souls in the poem cry out “There is justice and there is a judge!”
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The Avichayils used to live in Jerusalem’s Old City. “Segev was almost born right at the Kotel (Western Wall),” his mother recalled. “It was there that he prayed on behalf of the Jews of Sderot that afternoon, and on the Mount of Olives, across from the Holy of Holies, is where he was buried.”
A young man with curly hair and a large Rebbe Nachman kippah (yarmulke) timidly asks to speak. “When I was in class with Segev, for eight years, he was the greatest friend I could ever wish for," the boy says. "He was never mean to anyone. I really never met anyone else like him – he was always there for you.”
Segev died alongside his friend Avraham David Moses, the son of North American immigrants who lived across the valley in Efrat. Akiva, the young man who spoke at the Avichayils, went on to Efrat to visit the mother and father of Avraham David as well. “Both Segev and Avraham David were simply sincere,” Akiva said. “That is the secret to joy in life – and they had it.”
Akiva recalled listening to Avraham David lead prayers at the synagogue he attends in Efrat.
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At Avraham David’s home, his mother is filled with grief, but imbues her guests with an unimaginable strength. She quietly asks a friend to draw up a poster with the words prescribed for comforting a mourner. “I see some people don’t know the words and are embarrassed,” she says with concern.
Another friend expresses her amazement that she found the time to organize a replacement to oversee the mikva (ritual bath) in her stead, and personally dropped off her younger son at kindergarten the morning of the funeral. “We are all lying here, crying and incapacitated, and you are taking on the world," she tells Avraham David's mother.
“It is not that my heart is not broken,” the bereaved mother explains. “I am so sad that I will not dance at his wedding, that I will never see his children, but I am so, so grateful for the sixteen years and five months that I had the honor of being his mother. It is truly better to have loved and lost, I think, than not to have loved at all.”
It is clear to all the parents that their children were not targeted for who they were as individuals. “The Arabs targeted the Torah, because they know very well that it is what gives us our right to be here,” she says. “They chose this yeshiva in the heart of Jerusalem, with all the symbolism and political ramifications. It should remind us how precious this asset is and bring us to protect it.”
The role of her son as a martyr struck her at the funeral. “We got to the funeral early and they kept saying over the loudspeakers that the area in the middle was for the mishpechot hakedoshim. It sounded nice that the bereaved families were being referred to as holy families, but then I parsed it linguistically and realized something was off in my translation; I realized they were saying Avraham David was a martyr.
“There are traditions that say that Heaven is truly a Talmud and a candle – for Avraham David it really was. You know, I like gold jewelry, a glass of wine and romance, but for him, that was really Heaven.”
Classmates recalled that Avraham David had chavrutas (study partners) set up for every hour of the day – even in between classes and before and after mealtimes.
Yeshiva students from Merkaz HaRav are shiva-worn – going from house to house, across the country, and trying to comfort the people their friends left behind, including themselves. They approach their friends’ parents, blessing them: May G-d comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, politicians and well-wishers embark on pilgrimages to the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, founded by Israel’s first Chief Rabbi as a universal yeshiva for all of Israel to engage their inheritance: the Torah of Israel.
The yeshiva is pocked with bullet holes. Spider webs of shattered glass embody the feeling of shattered security on the faces of many of the young teenagers who attend the high school section of the large educational institution.
The library where the terrorist entered looks like a Hollywood crime scene. All the holy books from the bottom shelves are gone – buried together with those who embraced their pages, drenched in their blood.
The bullet holes in the walls are not as jarring as those in the floor. The terrorist stood over the wounded and fired, point-blank, over and over, into the young men’s bodies.
A single bullet hole marks the spot above where Segev and Avraham David had been pouring over their studies.
A groups of bare-headed children of Russian Jewish immigrants files in, listening to one of the school’s teachers explain what the purpose of the yeshiva is, what it seeks to bring to the nation. A group of young women stand in the courtyard, getting a tour of the premises – their first time anywhere near a yeshiva.
A Chassidic rebbe enters the study hall to pay his condolences, the young Russian Jews peruse the library’s ancient texts and the words of Torah study can be heard from the street, stronger than ever.
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(Photos: Ezra HaLevi)