|Israel Resource Review
||5th July, 2006
A Shiva Call to the family of Eliahu Osheri, murdered this week
[On Monday, July 3rd, 2006, Israel Resource News Agency facilitated a bus trip to visit the family of Eliahu Osheri. This is one of the accounts of an articulate Jerusalemite writer. - DB]
This week, the country was informed that Eliyahu, an 18 year-old boy from Itamar was also kidnapped. For some reason, Eliyahu's kidnapping did not generate the same publicity and media attention as Gilad's. Perhaps because Eliyahu was from the "shtachim," the settlements.
On Thursday, it was revealed that Eliyahu had been killed immediately after he was kidnapped (on Sunday). One of the murderers, who was arrested by the Israeli government in an effort to crack down on the Hamas leadership, led the police to Eliyahu's body on a hilltop near Ramallah.
I attended Eliyahu's funeral in Jerusalem. Needless to say, the scene was heart-breaking. I stood in the blazing sun with several thousand Israelis. We listened to the hespedim (eulogies) over loud-speakers. A number of rabbis and local Itamar politicians eulogized Eliyahu. Although it was difficult to hear and decipher the speeches, the sobs and wails of Eliyahu's four younger siblings and parents were a distinct undertone throughout.
The sound of the continuous wail of the family members will always remain with me. The sickening sound of a young girl sobbing, wailing over her 18 year old brother's casket was haunting, eerie and unnatural.
Both Eliyahu's mother and father gave eulogies. Eliyahu's "adopted" grandfather, Rav Druckman also spoke about his son. One common theme that all of the speakers touched upon was Eliyahu's biblical namesake, Elijah the Prophet and his ability to intercede on behalf of the people of Israel. Eliyahu's mother beseeched him: "Eliyahu, please pray to God on our behalf."
Today I joined a group of several people who desired to pay a shiva call to the Osheri family. We traveled on a bullet-proof bus to the town of Itamar. As we left Jerusalem behind us, I was struck, as I always am, by the beautiful vast expanse of land, mountains and hills that is the "west bank." Only fifteen minutes outside of the bustling city center of Jerusalem, the serenity of the stunning landscape is striking.
We passed Beit El, Eli, Shilo, Ofra and many other charming and vibrant towns as we headed toward Itamar. When I got off the bus in Itamar I took several pictures. Although Nablus is only 3 kilometers from Itamar, I immediately did a 360 and realized I could see no other village or town in any direction.
As we approached the Osheri house, we discovered the family sitting shiva in the yard outside. Apparently, the home was too small to contain the large numbers of friends, families, and strangers like myself. I joined the group surrounding Eliyahu's parents. I sat toward the back of the circle and listened and watched the bereaved mother and father. I glalnced behind me and saw a girl, Eliyahu's sister, the source of the horrifying wails at the funeral, who looked like she couldn't be more than ten or eleven, surrounded by a circle of her peers.
The woman sitting next to me reminded me that the town of Itamar (which is populated by around 100 families) has seen its share of tragedies. In the past five years, fourteen members of the community have been murdered in terrorist attacks. I cringed at the thought. And then the woman told me that one of those fourteen had been a dear friend of Eliyahu's. (please see the following link to the unspeakable tragedy of the shabo family from itamar: http://www.shechem.org/itamar/eshabo.html). I later found out from Eliyahu's father that Eliyahu would have been at his friend's house that night, but had rushed home immediately after the night's activities at his father's instruction.
After sitting with the parents for a little while, I joined a group of three journalists who interviewed Eliyahu's father. The father agreed to speak with the press, for what ended up lasting about an hour. Mr. Osheri spoke of his son's development in the years leading up to his murder last week.
Apparently, Eliyahu was not much of a student in high school. He was not interested in the material being taught. Once he entered a "pre-military" mechina program, however, Eliyahu seemed to turn over a new leaf. His spiritual development progressed very quickly. As his mother had told us earlier, he asked penetrating, thoughtful and deep questions about belief and Judaism. He thrived at his yeshiva.
Mr. Osheri shared with us that Eliyahu's mother had given voice to concern several months back regarding Eliyahu's spiritual growth. His mother worried:"He's so close to the Almighty now, I'm afraid the Almighty will take him." (How unfortunately prophetic her words were). I was told that when Eliyahu prayed the mincha, afternoon service, it was like watching someone pray the Yom Kippur service.
Eliyahu's father's words left an indelible imprint on me. I kept returning to the picture of Eliyahu smiling, emanating "chein," goodness and a deep spirituality.
After discussing Eliyahu for a while, the questions veered toward Mr. Osheri's own spiritual journey. He shared with us his own path to Judaism. As a non-Jewish child in Australia, he told us, he knew at the age of ten that Catholicism was not for him. He studied East Asian religions in college and found them engaging only on a cursory level. When he lived in New Guinea for two years, he met an architect whose wife happened to be Israeli. This woman encouraged Mr. Osheri to visit and spend time in Israel.
He did. He spent a year living on a non-religious kibbutz. Mr. Osheri explained that it was on that kibbutz that he sensed something special, unique about the Jewish people. The kibbutznikim possessed some sort of intangible spiritual, ethical quality. He asked them the source of that spark. Someone handed Mr. Osheri a pamphlet of "pirkei avot," "ethics of our fathers." Reading Pirkei Avot, for him, was like discovering a canteen of water in the middle of the desert. Subsequent to his stint on kibbutz, Mr. Osheri returned to Australia where he studied and learned for a year, culminating in his conversion to Judaism.
I was amazed at the quiet, humble and methodical manner in which Mr. Osheri shared such a personal and unbelievable story. Toward the end of the conversation, the ha'aretz journalist asked him how he would respond to people who think that he should not be living in Itamar. Eliyahu's father softly, yet firmly, answered: "I would tell them to open the Bible and read very closely and discover that G-d gave this Land to only one people, the Jewish people."
On the bus ride back to Jerusalem, I thought about Eliyahu, his parents and his siblings. His parents, such salt-of-the-earth, gentle, spiritual people grieving over the loss of a son. I thought about the people of Itamar, their beautiful town, their idealism. I thought about the little children who were playing in their "gan," schoolyard when I walked through the town. I thought about Mr. Osheri, his spiritual journey and his son Eliyahu, and his own spiritual journey. I thought about Mrs. Osheri, who could not release my hand from hers when I blessed her upon my departure that G-d should comfort her.
These sights are difficult to understand and accept. I am left without words. Only with prayer. For Gilad. For the Osheri family. For the Jewish people. For the State of Israel.
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Parting with a Son - The Asheris Mourn Eliyahu
Nestled on a hillside in the Shomron village of Itamar, Miriam and Yitro Asheri, parents of Eliyahu, kidnapped and murdered last week, sit on the low chairs of mourners in their living room.
Seated facing them are Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and incoming IDF Chief Rabbi and neighbor Rabbi Avi Ronsky, along with several family members and friends who have come to participate in the traditional mourning.
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 in his earnest, soft voice, "The land belongs to the Jewish nation, when will we begin to act like it?"
Dichter, wearing a kippa, nods and acts diplomatic, 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 vein 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; 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.
She and her husband say Eliyahu mentioned he accidentally said vidui, a confessional prayer Sunday afternoon, forgetting that it is not supposed to be recited on the eve of Rosh Hodesh, 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 twelve 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.
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 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 B'nei 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 and losing friends to the frequent 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 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 decided to leave high school a year early and take his matriculation exams while at the Elisha pre-military academy near Neve 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 Betar Illit Sunday. He left Betar at 7 p.m. 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 p.m. 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 Ofra. It was at the Ofra hitching post where Eliyahu was seen getting into a van.
The Arab man driving the van was dressed like a religious Jew, but after turning onto route 465, the driver took an early turn down a side road toward Bir Zeit, home of 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 the next Tuesday.
"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 bless the bad as we bless the good."
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 HaShem (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 HaShem 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 HaShem 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—the numerical value of the Hebrew word v'etchanan [meaning petitioned] - before 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 HaShem 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 HaShem 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.
This piece ran on the web site of IsraelNationalNews.com
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