Rabbi Ahiad Ettinger, who was a father of 12.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"Rabbi Ettinger called me just 14 minutes before the terrorist attack took place,” recalls Yitzhak Wasserlauf, a student at Oz V’Emunah hesder yeshiva in south Tel Aviv. “Every morning he would call me to go over all the tasks I was in charge of to help run the yeshiva. We’re all in shock. He was on his way here to the yeshiva and we thought we’d see him any minute when we heard about the attack.”
The father of 12 children died last month after being shot in the head by a terrorist at Ariel Junction. Ettinger, 47, had stopped to shoot at the terrorist, but the terrorist returned fire, mortally wounding him. His family announced that they would be donating his organs.
Ettinger lived in Eli for the last three years. Before that he lived in Kiryat Shalom in south Tel Aviv. During that time, he founded Yeshivat Oz V’Emunah at 13 Yesod Hama’ala St. in Neveh Sha’anan, a neighborhood that has been experiencing great hardship in recent years. Ettinger’s goal was to rehabilitate and strengthen the neighborhood and its inhabitants and to restore its Jewish character. A few hours before the funeral took place, students from the yeshiva gathered to reminisce about their rabbi and the many wonderful things he did for people.
“Rabbi Ettinger had three main goals when he founded the yeshiva,” explains Yeshivat Oz V’Emunah cofounder and Shapira neighborhood resident Ariel Bashan. “First, he wanted to create a place where he could learn seriously. His second goal was to help others feel closer to their Judaism and Zionistic leanings through learning Torah texts and values. His third and main goal was to strengthen the Jewish character of the neighborhood, from which many Jews have fled. He used to call it Africa-Israel.
“He wanted to achieve these goals without harming others living here,” continues Bashan. “He didn’t want to do anything negative – only carry out positive actions. Jews were constantly leaving the neighborhood, and so he felt it was important for us to come live there. By learning Torah there, he felt like he was bringing light to a dark place.”
Did many people follow his example?
“He had to deal with numerous challenges to get the yeshiva started, but he was extremely determined and had a huge amount of faith. He was intent on supporting people living in the neighborhood. He succeeded in gathering a variety of individuals with differing worldviews and outlooks. He would speak about the importance of his goal, and how it would significantly affect the future of our community and country. He picked the name Oz V’Emunah because he believed that we could find great strength through faith.”
One of the individuals he recruited to help establish the yeshiva is Tel Aviv Municipal Council representative and Bayit Yehudi member Chaim Goren. “Rabbi Ettinger took a deserted synagogue near the old Central Bus Station and revived it,” recounts Goren.
“He collected shekel after shekel with great dedication in order to pay for the renovations and to find students and teachers. Ettinger functioned as the director, head of the yeshiva and the secretary. He filled all of these positions himself. He wanted to create an anchor that would keep the last few Jews who lived in the area from leaving. His aim was to convince others to come bolster the synagogue so that there would be a functioning synagogue in south Tel Aviv where any Jew could come to pray or learn. His dream was to build a community and a positive feeling in a neighborhood that was suffering greatly. His hope was that at one point families would start coming back here to live and raise their kids.”
What role have you played?
“The rabbi did almost everything on his own. I helped him as much as I could. I functioned as the liaison with the municipality and I asked friends living in neighboring communities for help. In these aspects, I was able to help a little. I was quite skeptical at first that he would succeed in getting the yeshiva off the ground. Such an endeavor is difficult even under usual circumstances. But to try to carry out such a feat in an area such as south Tel Aviv seemed practically impossible. This is an area where many bars are open in the evening and drugs are sold on the streets. Rabbi Ettinger was determined, and despite the odds he succeeded."
Wasserlauf has been learning at the yeshiva for the last three years, from the day it opened its doors, and lives in south Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighborhood. “I am devastated by the rabbi’s tragic death,” he laments. “I was very close to the rabbi. He would come here every day.”
What’s it like living in this neighborhood?
“There are currently about 2,000 Jews living here, and many more non-Jewish residents,” continues Wasserlauf. “The streets are very neglected and violence and crime have skyrocketed. Rabbi Ettinger established the yeshiva here in an effort to bolster local Jewish residents. All of the synagogues in the area have shut down and the Jews here feel despondent. There was no longer a place for Jews to pray together. He recognized this need and began offering food packages for the elderly. He also led study groups in the local matnas (community center).”
Will the yeshiva continue to thrive without Rabbi Ettinger?
“He was the backbone of the yeshiva. He did everything. We’re going to have to pull together and figure out how to continue his work without him. With God’s help, we will succeed.”
“Rabbi Ettinger wanted to strengthen the Jewish nature of this neighborhood, from which so many Jews have fled over the past few years,” describes Nir Seat, who also lives in Shapira. “Only the frail and poor residents who have no ability to leave have remained here. The rabbi would also reach out to Jews who weren’t religious and try to reconnect them with their Jewish heritage and religion. When he still lived in the neighborhood, after he had finished Shabbat dinner with his family, he’d go out to Shenkin and Florentine streets and offer to make Kiddush for people there. Even after he left Tel Aviv, he would still come back every year for our matzah-baking event at the old Hapoel Hamizrachi Synagogue where he used to be the rabbi. For six years, he gave a Torah lesson at my house every Tuesday night. It would be packed every week. He was very popular.”
The yeshiva students took the news of Rabbi Ettinger’s death extremely hard. “On the day of the attack, we were wondering why the rabbi hadn’t yet arrived. Then one of the students who was connected to the yeshiva in Eli called me to tell me that he’d heard a rumor of the bad news. Just then my phone rang. It was my wife. She told me she’d just gotten off the phone with Rabbi Ettinger’s wife, who said he’d been shot and was in critical condition. That night, people from all over the country began gathering in the yeshiva in Tel Aviv. We held a mass prayer session and poured out our hearts for the recovery of the rabbi. When we received the sad news of his passing, our hearts were broken.”
“None of us is surprised when we hear other people extolling Rabbi Ettinger’s esteemed values and the heroism he displayed during the attack,” notes Bashan. “Now we are just trying to get past the shock. There are already many people who are coming forward to help us continue with the rabbi’s lifelong work. With help from Hashem, we will succeed.” Translated by Hannah Hochner.
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