Our dear friend Aharon Tzarfati died suddenly last week while in the midst of a try-out for the elite Shayetet 13 naval commando unit. The news of his death has left us stunned and in total disbelief.
Aharon made aliya with his family from France as a little boy. After years of living in Bat Yam, his family moved to Ra'anana just before Aharon began 10th grade at Yeshivat Amit Kfar Batya. He quickly became one of the most popular boys in school, infusing the class with his energy, smile and sense of humor.
At least once a day, you could find a group of five or six guys crowded around him as he told some story or joke. Aharon could tell stories like no one else. He could have read the tax code out loud and kept his audience on the edge of their seats.
His versatility was remarkable. Every time you thought you had Aharon pegged into a group, he'd show you something different. You might find him in the morning sitting with some guys talking about last night's soccer games, in the afternoon with a totally different group discussing physics, overhear him talk about the army as you went home, and find him at night talking with someone else about music.
You couldn't label Aharon. He was his own label.
If anyone benefited from his versatility, it was those of us fortunate to be around him. Aharon could always make someone feel included. He approached me shortly after I had made aliya with my family from New York and started to talk about baseball.
Aharon was a superb athlete and a wizard with a soccer ball. He would give opposing players fits. He'd have the ball doing all sorts of tricks: putting it through defenders' legs, holding it with his neck, and any manner of things that left anyone who had never seen him play before wondering "How did he do that?"
Other players would try to try to steal the ball or pressurize him to pass, but it was no use. Aharon had decided that he was going to have the ball, and there was nothing you could do about it.
While Aharon could make you laugh at will, he was no ordinary class clown. He had a drive and determination that you would not expect from someone with such a developed sense of humor. When Aharon decided that he was going to do something, it was final.
In 12th grade, he joined the Yuval Eilam preparatory course to prepare himself for the Shayetet. A classmate who was also in the course tells a story of how, during one particularly difficult exercise, Aharon injured his back while carrying a stretcher. The instructors urged him repeatedly to sit down and take a break, but Aharon just kept on. Only when he felt that it would do him more harm than good to continue did he sit down for five minutes, after which he promptly got back up and continued the exercise.
Reaching the Shayetet was Aharon's dream, and the unit's symbol could be found on his computer and phone.
It was to realize this dream that he worked so hard at Yuval Eilam. He talked often about his preparations for the try-out and about the army in general. Finally, someone asked him why the Shayetet was so important to him. Aharon answered simply that he wanted to serve his country in the best way he thought possible.
Seeing how hard he trained and his high motivation, we all knew the try-out was just a formality. He was going to the Shayetet.
After completing high school, Aharon decided to continue his Torah studies at the Mechina in Eli. This would allow him to spend a year focusing on growing in Torah and also him to serve a full term in the Shayetet.
On our first Shabbat there, Aharon and I were sitting next to each other during lunch when somebody across the table started telling jokes. I can't remember what the first joke was, but I remember Aharon looking at him and saying, "Your job is to make me laugh, and I'll take care of the rest of the Mechina."
A few hours after Shabbat had ended, we began an all-night hike up one of the mountains in the Jordan Valley. While Aharon could have easily been at the front of the pack charging to the top, he chose to stay at the back and push forward the guys in lesser shape.
The news of Aharon's death hit us like a punch to the gut from which we have not yet begun to recover. Even when we do, we will never be quite as we were before. After surgery the body can heal, but a scar will always remain. It is at least a little comforting to know that when he died, he was at the place he wanted to be, doing what he had wanted to do.
It was also comforting to hear from one of the instructors at the try-out that Aharon had received the highest marks out of all those who were trying out, and had tragedy not struck, he would have been accepted into the Shayetet.
The fact that he did not finish the try-out and officially get accepted doesn't really matter to any of us. In our hearts, we Aharon had made it.
May his memory be blessed.