Schwartz family buries their son after Gush Etzion terror attack: 'We will never be complete again'

Ezra Schwartz, killed in Gush Etzion terror attack, is laid to rest in his hometown of Sharon, Massachusetts.

By
November 23, 2015 14:24

Funeral of American terror victim Ezra Schwartz

Funeral of American terror victim Ezra Schwartz

 
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“I can’t believe childhood is over. Good luck out there in the adult world,” Ari Schwartz texted his son Ezra on his 18th birthday.

It was just seven weeks before his death in a terrorist attack at the Gush Etzion junction in the West Bank on November 19.

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On Sunday, he recalled the exchange as he eulogized his son in front of the hundreds of mourners who had gathered in Sharon, Massachusetts, for the funeral of the popular teenager who excelled in baseball, could recite sections of the Harry Potter books and was well known for his quirky, off-beat sense of humor.

“I can’t help but be happy for Ezra. I know you are okay right now. We are the ones in pain,” said Ari, briefly breaking into tears.

Ezra had left home just a few months earlier to spend his gap year at a yeshiva in Israel before heading to Rutgers University next fall.

His son’s body was flown back to the US on Saturday night. It now lay, to Ari’s left as he spoke, in a wooden coffin covered by a prayer shawl.

“I know how happy he was in Israel and I know how much he wanted to be there for this year before college,” Ari said. “We have no regrets. I am happy for him because of all the places he went and the people he was able to touch. Ezra had a wonderful life and he died a happy person, and that is more important to us than anything else.”



He described the many things his son was passionate about, particularly sports, and especially America’s national pastime.

Ezra “was an amazing baseball player” who won three Little League championships, led the Maimonides School baseball team his senior year in high school and nurtured younger players, including his three brothers, said Ari.

“I wonder sometimes as I cheer on my kids. Why are sports so important. When tragedy strikes, it seems like a simple game of baseball or football is meaningless, but it is not. Ezra had some great moments in his sports career. I loved watching him, and he loved that I loved watching him,” recalled Ari.

“We talked about his games, the other kids, his plays and the championships that he won. We talked about those memories again and again,” Ari said.

His son was also an avid football fan. Even while in Israel they would watch New England Patriots games together using FaceTime to talk during and after the games. Once, when Ezra lost his feed to a game in Israel, his younger brother Hillel got a tripod, set up his phone on a chair so that Ezra could watch with them.

“Football kept us connected. We loved it together. We all have such fond memories of the togetherness of watching sports,” Ari said.

He recalled how Ezra as a camper and a councilor at New Hampshire’s Camp Yavneh, loved the annual song competition, called the zimriyah.

“It was the highlight of his summer. When he had the opportunity to teach those kids the songs for their competition, he gave it everything he had,” said Ari as he recalled that Ezra was awarded “King of the Zimriyah,” because he had done so much to help the campers prepare. “It meant a lot to him.”

At times, when thinking about this son, Ari said, he would worry about how people would relate to his son.

“Ezra would do annoying things. He had so many little idiosyncrasies. I use to wonder how this would effect his relationships in his life."

“Now I know, there was really nothing to worry about. Somehow he made people realize that those little quirky things that he did, like flicking people’s ears, was somehow, his way of saying, ‘I love you.’ “Watching his friends laugh about Ezra and these little things that he did and recall them with such affection helped me realize that this was who he was and people loved him. His friends loved him and he loved them.”

When his son turned 18 on October 1, Ari sent him a text telling him he was proud of the person he had become. Ezra wrote back that his friends were throwing him a “surprise birthday party. Having a great time!” “When I told him I was proud of who he had become that was the sincerest truth. He had struggled through high school, but he did it. He became an incredibly successful counselor at Yavneh. He had a great group of friends that he was with in Israel and he was emotionally preparing himself for Rutgers Business School. But most of all I could see that he was happy and confident and he felt good about himself. His closest friends were throwing him a great party, I was so happy for him. This is how I will remember Ezra,” said Ari.

His mother, Ruth, also recalled how much her son enjoyed his time in Israel. The last time they spoke, on Wednesday morning, just two days before his death, “He called me and said that his last Shabbat was fun and relaxing with three of his good friends on the beach in Tel Aviv. He also told me that he felt safe and that he was not nervous traveling around Israel,” he said.

“Our family will never be complete again we will miss Ezra dearly, I love you and I am so proud to be your mother,” said Ruth.

His sister Mollie, who was older than him by 21 months, recalled how he always looked out for her and their three younger brothers and was her best friend.

“You were just the best. So smart and so beautiful and so interesting and so friendly and so loving and so interesting and funny and maybe a little annoying, but in the best and cutest way possible. All I wanted was to be more like you. I admire you more than any other person in this world and you are my best friend,” Mollie said.

“How lucky am I, to have to gotten to spend 18 years, side-by-side, with my best friend,” said Mollie.

Growing up, she said, the two of them were inseparable partners in crime. They would play a spy game in which he was power boy and she was power girl. Most of their spy missions involved late night forays to check on their parents to find out what was on television or what the late night snack was.

“You are always going to be my power boy,” said Mollie.

“We shared everything and enjoyed everything together. You made me enjoy life. You were always making jokes and being silly. You played and played with our brothers until there was no more time left.”

“You were so loving and you made people around you feel loved... You told me about each friend you had and the details of why you loved each person. Most of the time it was the weird and different sides of them that made you love them the most.”

In their last conversation on Monday, she had ranted about chemistry.

He offered some advice, which at the time she dismissed, but now understands reflected his philosophy in life.

He told her, “Mollie stop worrying so much. Just do your best. You need to try to have fun also. They were simple words, but they came from my Ezra. I promise I will embrace every moment because that is what you were best at, and that is what you wanted from me,” said Mollie.

“I love you Ezra. You are with me and you are good and you do not have to worry, because I am here.”

Maimonides’ middle and high school principal, Dov Huff, recalled how the mischievous boy he had met in seventh grade had grown into a mature young adult.

“The thing you did, you did exceptionally well, the thing you loved, you put everything into,” Huff said.

“You had tons of energy. And we shared a certain appreciation for the comedy of ridiculous things. You did not always work hard in school, but when learning was exciting you took off. At some point in school your friends realized they could get you to study if they bribed you with Oreo cookies.”

Ezra shined on stage, said Huff, who remembered how he was the lead dancer at the Hanukka performance and outshone others in memorable rap about Jewish law.

Huff remembered how his friends pushed him around Shaw’s Supermarket in a red car for little kids when he took a group of eighth grade boys with him to purchase food for a weekend event for the school.

“Everything with you became more fun,” he said.

“In high school you were still mischievous.

I had the job of assigning you detentions.” Once Ezra tried to get out of it by playing ping pong with Huff, with his weaker right hand. Another time, as part of his detention Ezra convinced Huff to take him to the kosher Chinese restaurant for lunch. “It was really a special detention,” Huff said.

“By the time you graduated I had great pride in you. It was not easy, but you got there.”

He recalled a moment during the class canoe trip at the end of senior year. They had paused at a point where a rope hung over the water, so that the teens could swing from it.

“Of course, you being brave and daring were one of the first to go. Of course you got the farthest – the best release off the road,” Huff said.

But the principal said he got scared when his eight-year-old daughter wanted to try it as well. He was about to stop her, when Ezra assured him he would ensure her safety.

“There you stood soaked in your dark gray T-shirt, no longer the little boy I had met in seventh grade, but a strong powerful man standing in the sun. You looked at me and said, ‘I got this.’ I realized in that moment that I had complete and total confidence in you. That over our years together I had grown to trust you deeply, in a way I trusted few people, not so much in school, but so profoundly outside of it, I knew you would not let anything happen to my daughter,” said Huff.

“Where are you Ezra? This can’t be you in front of me. How could so much energy, so much love and passion be so quiet and so still?” Rabbi Gotch Yudin, who heads the Ashreinu yeshiva in Beit Shemesh where Ezra studied said he was “the life of the party” and the boy “everyone wanted to become friends with,” even though he had not known anyone there when he arrived.

During his time in yeshiva Ezra had participated in a charity project by which he volunteered at the educational nature reserve Oz V’Gaon, in the Gush Etzion region, named for the three teenagers who were kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists in June 2014.

On that Thursday, he was tired and thought of not going, but then realized he could sleep in the van on the way.

“That is what he did. He got into the car with five of his friends and then the unthinkable took place,” said Yudin, of the moment when Ezra was killed by a Palestinian gunmen who shot at cars stuck in traffic at the Gush Etzion junction.

Ezra’s father, Ari, urged the mourners to remember his son as he looked on the ski slopes.

“Think of Ezra with a great big smile on his face, flying through the air on jumps so big most of us could not imagine people flying so high.”

Hillel added that his older brother had been working hard on completing a 360-degree turn on skis.

“He was getting really good at it. He just needed one more season, but that season and all the other seasons were taken away from him.”

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