When Ezra Schwartz of Sharon was murdered in a terror attack in November, his death was incredibly painful for the Jewish people. Although I didn’t know Ezra personally, our lives paralleled in many ways. We’re both 18, both from Boston, both members of the Camp Yavneh community.
From photos, videos, and his parents’ and sister’s remarks at his funeral, it’s easy to tell Ezra was a tremendously special young man. One video from this summer depicts a carefree Ezra joyfully dancing with his young campers; clearly, they loved him. While his life was cut short, in his 18 years Ezra affected many lives .
Ezra was killed arbitrarily. That could have been me; I was in Israel this past summer. That could have been any number of gap-year students in Israel; that could have been anyone. It’s during these tragic times that I’m most tempted to ask the core question:
Why does hate exist? But I won’t, both because the answer is unfathomable and because I’ve already cried enough over Ezra’s death.
Since then, I’ve come to realize I primarily cope with tragedy in two ways.
The first is with appreciation and gratitude. The key to this way of thinking is to recognize that times can always be worse and that we have much to be grateful for. When I take this approach,
I soon find myself engrossed in the beauty of a sunset or captivated by the fresh smell that follows a rainstorm.
Stepping back and putting the incident into context is an important first step. But I think it is just a first step because, ultimately, this approach does nothing for the world at large.
The second step is to take action. Harnessing the anger, sadness and fire within us to make a positive impact isn’t easy. It takes a certain amount of maturity that I think I only developed recently, following the tragedy of Ezra’s death. It all happened the morning of Monday, Dec. 7.
It had been about two weeks since Ezra’s funeral, and I woke up feeling very fortunate to be alive. At that moment, I asked myself, with brutal honesty: What the heck am I doing with my life?! I’m so lucky to be here on this earth, I need to take advantage of that fact and really start living to the max.
After I learned Ezra was killed doing a mitzvah delivering food to Israeli soldiers, I became determined to do one in his honor – something big, something I would never before have considered doing.
I decided to run the Miami half-marathon on Jan. 24.
In honor of Ezra, I am raising $3,000 for Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities. With chapters throughout the United States and Canada, Yachad members work to ensure that individuals with disabilities participate in the full spectrum of Jewish life. In fact, Ezra himself was a Yachad volunteer.
Ezra’s death pained us beyond belief. We coped, but now I encourage you to take the second step: To take action and commit to this meaningful cause. Even if just a few dollars, everything counts. I’ve always had incredible faith in the Jewish community and this instance is no different.
For Ezra, for Yachad, for making a positive impact, I thank you.
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Advocate. To donate to Andrew Jacobson’s Team Yachad run, click here.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.