Hundreds of mourners, some seemingly inconsolable, furiously demanding vengeance, gathered in the West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad on Wednesday afternoon for the funeral of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, 35, who was murdered the previous night in a drive-by terrorist attack nearby.
The mourners came from across Samaria and beyond, including government ministers, the chief rabbi and other religious and communal leaders who spoke with sadness about the slaying of Shevach, who was by all accounts, a unique and beloved personality.
The funeral ceremony was conducted near the outpost’s synagogue in the presence of Shevach’s wife and other relatives, who openly sobbed, along with many other mourners, as eulogies were delivered.
The rabbi was praised as an extraordinary personality who worked as a religious educator and a mohel, who helped save lives in his volunteer work with the Magen David Adom ambulance service and who was an energetic, fun and inspiring man and a devoted husband and father to his wife and six children.
Before the funeral, Shevach’s widow, Yael, noted that her husband had once said if anything should ever happen to him, he wanted to be buried in Havat Gilad.
“So together with the rest of the family we decided to bury Raziel, my dear husband, beloved of God, may God avenge his blood, in the settlement of Havat Gilad where he worked and which he so loved,” she said, calling on as many people as possible to attend.
Uriel Eliyahu, a close friend of Shevach, wept bitterly as he spoke. God had taken “the most beautiful of flowers,” he said.
“Rabbi Raziel, you lived a holy life... God, you know what you are doing, but for us it is hard,” Eliyahu said in tears.
He described how 24 hours earlier he had prayed alongside Shevach in the yeshiva where they studied, recalling that they had studied chapters of the Bible relating to the Prophet Elijah and how he had miraculously revived a child.
“My beloved brother, righteous people are always alive, and you, too, have not died – you live,” said Shevach’s grieving friend. “You in your entirety are alive. In life you were alive, and now you are even more alive, even now, laid out in front of us, silent forever... but you will speak a great deal in Heaven.”
And like many, Eliyahu had a strong political message in his eulogy.
“All the non-Jews should be removed from the country,” he said. “We shouldn’t put up checkpoints for them; we shouldn’t close them off. We should remove them from the land and settle the Jewish people. The Land of Israel is ours and only ours.”
Among the prominent speakers at the funeral was Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett. He described Shevach as “a tower of light of Havat Gilad,” with “a heart that saved lives, a holy heart.”
Bennett made political demands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling on him to ensure that Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists cease, to recognize Havat Gilad as a legal settlement and to impose Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
But as he was issuing his last demand, angry voices in the crowd of mourners began to shout “Vengeance,” chanting the word rhythmically and drowning out Bennett’s words.
The minister said in response that though he understood the pain of those chanting “Vengeance,” the only answer to Shevach’s murder could be through IDF actions and to build more settlements.
Chief Rabbi David Lau described Shevach as “outstanding in Torah, in service of God and in loving-kindness” and as “a complete man.”
And he had strong words for the Palestinian leadership, asking: “Where is even one word of condemnation from religious leaders there or a word of outcry?”
Communal and religious leaders in the region were more strident in their criticism of the Palestinians.
Samaria Chief Rabbi Elyakim Levanon described Shevach as embodying the praise of God, saying he was a victim of “a war between the people of darkness and the people of light.”
“How much light was in you, and how much darkness is in those sons of darkness who came to destroy the light,” he said.
Yossi Dagan, chairman of the Yesha Council, which represents the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, said Shevach had been full of love and praised his work in Havat Gilad.
“Rabbi Raziel, our beloved, holy and dear brother, a man full of kindness and love... how much light and happiness flowed from you... how many lives did you save as a Magen David Adom volunteer here in Samaria. You gave Torah lessons and would teach the youth and children,” he said.
“You who saved so many lives, how did they come yesterday, these lowly people, and steal from us such an amazing soul?” Dagan said. “We promise to the murderers that the Jewish people will never be broken: You sanctified death, and we sanctify life; you sanctified evil, and we sanctified the Torah, the Land of Israel and the people of Israel. We will defeat you – a bunch of despicable barbarians.”
He demanded that the IDF bring “a day of total vengeance to the murderers,” that the prime minister recognize Havat Gilad as a legal settlement and that the defense minister approve 1,000 housing units in the settlement.
“This is what will stop the motivation for terrorism,” Dagan concluded.
Following the ceremony, the hundreds of mourners participated in the funeral procession to a small plot above the outpost where Shevach was buried.
He is survived by his wife, Yael, and six children.