Remembering Ari Fuld, a life that continues to inspire, and the beautiful song written about him by a South African youth
By Chandrea Serebro
Israel lost its lion last year. World Jewry, including South Africa, mourned on 16 September and everyday thereafter. The day that Ari Fuld, a 45-year-old American-born Israeli, was murdered by a 16-year-old Palestinian terrorist, Khalil Jabarin, in Gush Etzion. With his dying breath, after sustaining mortal stab wounds, the Lion drew his weapon, scaled a fence in pursuit of his attacker, and shot the terrorist to prevent him from causing further harm and destruction and catching the woman he was chasing down the street. Ari saved her life and the lives of who knows how many others. As heroic in death as he was in life, Ari was awarded the medal of distinction – the third highest award given by the police – posthumously, by the Israel Police for successfully neutralising the terrorist.
Hila Peretz, the mall employee whose life Ari saved, came to the Fulds during the shiva period. “I felt a deep kinship there. She put up a sign in front of her store thanking Ari Fuld, her hero, for saving her life,” relates Mary Fuld, Ari’s mother. A life changed irrevocably by the gentle giant of a man that was Ari Fuld. A father of four children, Ari was a family man, deeply loved and respected by his family and friends, and even those who disagreed with him. “I don’t know how I will go on without you,” his widow, Miriam, said at the midnight funeral held in the Kfar Etzion Settlement in the West Bank. “My big bro is gone…just looking for oxygen now,” tweeted his brother Hillel Fuld on his death. “Ari didn’t want to leave this world,” said his mother, Mary, to a group at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference.
He was a man who loved his life, his family, his country, his Torah. “But, if he had to write a scenario for how he left this world, this would have been it,” she says. “Ari – protecting Jewish lives and the land of Israel with his very last breath,” says Hillel. This was his ultimate goal; one that he lived, and died for. “Ari lived a hero. He dedicated his life to defending, promoting, and protecting Israel – both online and offline,” says Hillel. Ari was particularly vocal on his popular blog Sword of Israel. All of this, says Hillel, as he continued to volunteer for the IDF throughout his life – from a very young age to the very last day of his life.
“When he got his exemption papers from the IDF at 40 years old, he ripped them up, and continued to volunteer.” There was no stopping him. He was online day or night, no matter the time, defending Israel, says Hillel. He was an activist for Israel in every sense of the word. The grandson of Holocaust survivors on both sides of his parents, Ari lived for Israel. “We are a product of our experience,” explains Ari’s mother. “In Auschwitz, my mother was separated from her cousin, Ava, into two separate lines, and in the midst of the guns, the shouting, and dogs, my mother grabbed her cousin out of her line and put her in line with her and, in doing so, saved her life. After the war, having lost so much, she picked herself up and said, ‘G-d saved me for a reason.’” She came to Israel and had a family of her own – she was Ari’s role model, his hero. “At my mother’s funeral, Ari stood up and said: Grandma, you are my hero.” The experience of his grandparents impacted on Ari deeply, says Mary. “He came from a very Zionistic household, as we did.”
Ari came to Israel at 18 years old to study for his gap year, and he wanted to enlist in the army, as did his older brother. “As a mother, you could imagine, I was reluctant. But, if you plant a seed and the flower grows, you can’t pluck the flower and stamp on it and say I didn’t mean it.” So he became a member of the army as a volunteer. His good friend from Canada who served with him, Yehoshua Friedberg, was abducted and killed, says Mary, and “this affected him tremendously”. From that moment, Ari made it his life’s work to commemorate his memory, and defend and commit himself to Israel.
Ari is remembered by his fellow soldiers as always being the “Rambo” in his unit, carrying the heavy artillery gun, all gung-ho on every mission, says his mother. “Everyone always wanted to be with Ari on every mission – this tall, strong, iron man Ari,” says Mary. Ari held a fourth degree black belt in Tora Dojo – a rank in the martial art that is neither easy to achieve nor commonplace. He dedicated himself to working for Standing Together, an organisation in support of the IDF soldiers, which looks to give an opportunity worldwide to show appreciation to the Israel Defense Forces, to those who risk their lives every day for the safety of the people, visitors, and holy places of Israel. He took his passion further, traveling internationally, speaking to crowds about Israel, spreading the truth, and dispelling the myths. “He was very dedicated to everything. He had a fire burning inside of him,” a fire that propelled him to express his deep need to “say his truth”.
And it was a need that effected the world, with a following of supporters and friends worldwide in his life, and even more so in his death. One such person is 18-year-old South African Calev Freeman, who has been learning in Yeshiva in Israel for two years. “As a bochur in Eretz Yisroel, whenever I hear the shocking news of a terror attack, I feel it deeply. At the time of Ari Fuld’s death, I was in South Africa for Bein Hazmanim (semester break). When I heard his daughter, Tamar, talking about her father at his funeral, I was moved. It had a profound impact on me.” Tamar related how Ari had given her profound life advice. “We know that life is full of tests. If life is easy, you are living it wrong,” Ari had told her. “His greatness was evident in her words,” says Calev, and he knew immediately that he wanted to write a song dedicated to Ari “with the intention of giving some small level of nechama (comfort) to the family”. Calev, like so many others around the world, felt the need to do something positive to show that, as Jews, we support one another when times are really difficult, and this is where our power lies. “To respond to such an act of hate with unity and love” that is uniquely Jewish.
Music has always been a large part of Calev’s life, having taught himself to play piano and guitar. “I enjoy composing music and writing songs; I find it a very powerful form of self-expression.” He has had some “great opportunities” in his musical career, including singing with Dovid Gabay together with his brother Tuvia; performing at the Dirshu launch; as well as appearing on Israel radio with Reuvain Garber from Derech Achim. Calev also composes and sells songs to other singers and sings at Chuppahs, and he recently wrote and recorded a song for an American camp – Camp Shai – for special needs children, together with his friend Shimi Mirkin.
“I feel music is an avenue for bringing joy, connection, and enhancing Avodas Hashem.” So Calev took his expertise and love for music and produced a live recording of an original song for the Fuld family, where he quotes Tamar and her message back to her father, Ari, and first sent it to Hillel after which it reached the Fuld family via Facebook. “The song was very positively received with many beautiful responses locally and worldwide.” But the two responses that Calev “treasures the most” were from Ari’s parents, Yonah and Mary, and Hillel, who expressed deep gratitude “for the beautiful song and for remembering our son and brother this way”. The video was disseminated to many media outlets and social media sites. Arutz Sheva and Kikkar Shabbos, two big news stations in Israel, also picked up on it. Calev spoke to the part in all of us that mourned for Ari as well, and it resonated around the world, with Calev receiving feedback and comments from people all over.
“I never knew of Ari Fuld then, but have subsequently learned of the enormous impact he made on Jews throughout the world.” Calev is inspired by Ari’s pro-active nature – “not sitting back and waiting for others to do”. “I admire the fact that he stood up for his beliefs. He would give shiurim (Torah classes) to increase the awareness of Hashem and his Torah and had a true love for Eretz Yisroel. He was a man of integrity and courage.” Ari is famously quoted as saying, “I’m always on call” when it comes down to the wire for Israel. He was an activist for Israel, telling the real story, and inspiring so many others along the way, in both his life and his death.
May his memory be a blessing.
Listen to Calev’s song: