Following a deadly shooting incident in Eilat on Friday morning, Jewish Agency
chairman Natan Sharansky appointed a panel to examine the processes by which the
gunman was accepted into the Israel Way program.
Sharansky expressed his
deep sorrow at the loss of life.
The 23-year-old shooter from
Poughkeepsie, New York, identified as William Hershkovitz, was part of the
Israel Way program – formerly known as Oranim – that brings Jews from around the
world for volunteer work, study and internship.
Police and the Israel Way
program said Hershkovitz was fired from his internship in the hotel kitchen a
day before the shooting, which left one person dead and three others suffering
A student in Hershkovitz’s program, who asked not to be
named, said she spoke to Hershkovitz a few days ago, and he told her he had just
been fired, but did not appear especially upset.
Hershkovitz arrived at
the hotel’s kitchen on Friday morning, where he began arguing with an
He then grabbed a gun from a security guard who tried to break
up the fight, and started shooting, killing 33-yearold chef Armando Abed from
the Christian village of Mi’ilya in the Western Galilee – who had been his
supervisor in the kitchen.
Police said that Hershkovitz subsequently
barricaded himself in the kitchen and that they deployed special patrol units.
Officers conducted negotiations with him and quickly determined that he wasn’t
holding any hostages.
About an hour after the incident began, the members
of the Counterterrorism Unit moved in and shot and killed Hershkovitz after he
opened fire on officers, National Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. No
police were injured in the raid.
One student in Hershkovitz’s program
described “Willy” as “a sweet guy” who mainly kept to himself and didn’t go out
with any of the other 80 participants.
The student told The Jerusalem
Post that the others thought Hershkovitz was somewhat odd, and “when you spoke
to him you could tell there was something weird about him.”
who works at a different hotel than Hershkovitz, said, “Everyone thought he was
spacey and weird, but I don’t think anyone thought he would do something violent
or something like this.”
The Associated Press quoted one anonymous
participant in the program as saying that Hershkovitz had made death threats
against other participants, and that the program organizers did not respond to
“He would talk to himself, share dreams that he’d had
about random killings and mutilations that he did, he would have statements
against Arabs or Nazis or terrorist type movements,” the participant told
The Israel Police said police received no complaints about
Hershkovitz before the shooting on Friday.
In a press release issued on
Friday, the organization Israel Way, which is owned by Egged tours, said
Hershkovitz came to Israel on August 27 to take part in MASA, one of many
programs supported by the Jewish Agency.
The organization said “since he
met all of the criteria for acceptance and his medical record was clean, he was
accepted into the program.”
Israel Way said Hershkovitz was supposed to
spend five months in Israel, working at a hotel in Eilat and taking part in
field trips to get to know the country first-hand.
After hotel staff
complained about his behavior, a meeting was held on Thursday between the heads
of the program and Hershkovitz, during which it was decided that he would leave
the program and return to the US this coming Tuesday.
Yuval Arad, the
spokesman for the Oranim program, said there was nothing about Hershkovitz that
sounded any alarms when he applied, a process that required he submit a clean
bill of health from a doctor, fill out an online form, and take part in a phone
interview. The process does not require a police background check.
said the program’s coordinators did not report having received any complaints
about Hershkovitz’s behavior from any of his fellow students, only that the
hotel had complained to the program that he was not suitable for the
An article in the Poughkeepsie Journal quotes Rabbi Yacov Borenstein
of the Mid-Hudson Valley Chabad on his impressions after meeting Hershkovitz at
a festival last summer at the Dutchess County Jewish Community
“At the time we met him, he was looking for something more,”
Borenstein told the Journal, adding that “the feeling I had was he was searching
and trying to rekindle the faith.”
The rabbi said he later performed
Hershkovitz’s overdue bar mitzva and that part of the reason he came to Israel
was to rekindle his connection to Judaism and meet people his age.
rabbi also told the paper that his synagogue would hold a service for
Hershkovitz after Succot.