I’ve spent most of today, and some of yesterday, looking for photos. You might think, sitting in front of the screen for a few hours, viewing pictures, not too stressing. But in truth, it hasn’t been easy. I’ve been searching for photos of my friend, Eyal Noked, who, a few months before his forty-first birthday, passed away.
At about 11:15 PM, the beeper message sent out to people’s homes and individual pagers had only three words: Baruch Dayan HaEmet – Blessed is the true judge. Such words are recited upon notification of a person’s death. No name accompanied this sad communication, but unfortunately, it was not necessary. All understood. Eyal was gone.
However, I think that Eyal didn’t ‘die’ as such. As is written about Eyal’s favorite prophet, “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, which parted them both assunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (Kings 2:11)
Eyal’s life was certainly filled with challenge. While serving in the army, he was attacked by terrorists who tried to steal his weapon and shot at him. Here in Hebron,he was, among other things, a paramedic. A number of years ago, attempting to help people wounded in a terror shooting at the Tel Hebron (Rumeida) neighborhood, he was shot in the shoulder by the terrorist. A few years ago, while driving a special paramedic motorcycle down the hill from Kiryat Arba to Hebron, Arabs started throwing rocks at him. Swerving, attempting to dodge the rocks, he fell, with the motorcycle on top of him, breaking his leg in two places. Eyal opted to forgo surgery, knowing that the recovery time (and pain) would be extended by a number of months. Yet, despite the seriousness of the injury, one day I found him on the treadmill, next to me, in Hebron’s gym room. And he was moving much faster than me.
Some years ago Eyal was diagnosed with cancer. Several surgeries seemed to have removed the growth, and his recovery appeared complete. But a couple of years ago it returned. At some point he had no choice but to leave his position here in Hebron, investing his time in an attempt to again overcome the illness.
It’s difficult to describe Eyal’s role in Hebron. He did so much, in so many different positions. Not only as a colleague, but also as a friend. As one of the speakers at the funeral declared, many many people looked at him as their best friend. Here, in our offices, Eyal had an integral role in building Hebron, both on paper and physically. He was instrumental in major building projects, working day and night at Beit HaShalom, Beit Shapira and in the “Shalhevet neighborhood,” otherwise known as the ‘shuk.’ He was a firm believer in the ‘greening’ of Hebron, and spent many an hour finding places to plant flowers, trees, and bushes, which really beautified the city. He was also a paramedic and ambulance driver, on-call whenever needed. He also served as a senior adviser to one of Hebron’s executive directors, and was elected to the Hebron community council. In addition he spent months in Gush Katif, prior to the expulsion, living and assisting in numerous projects undertaken at that time. He dedicated his life to Eretz Yisrael.
But, in truth, none of the above really describes Eyal. Perhaps the most fitting description portrayal of Eyal can be expressed in the words of his oldest son, Baruch Tzuri, seventeen years old, who, eulogizing his father at the funeral said, “Dad, you taught us that everything, but everything, comes from HaShem, from G-d. Just as you had no complaints, so too, we have no complaints to HaShem. We will continue in your path, knowing, believing, and living this axiom, that everything comes from HaShem.”
Much is written, in sacred Jewish literature, about the goal of every Jew, that being, ‘devakut with HaShem’ – roughly translated as ‘bind to HaShem,'' being at one with HaShem. This was, quite literally, the way Eyal lived. We have a job in this world, to do our part, but whatever happens is the Will of G-d. This is the way he lived and it’s also the way he died. I met him outside one day, and when he asked how I was, I sort of looked at him and raised my hands to the heavens, with the expression on my face not one of joy and happiness. He questioned me, as to the problem, and when I just looked at him he just smiled and said, ‘not because of me. Everything is fine, HaShem has me exactly where he wants me.’
In the past few weeks, even as his strength dwindled, he maintained his inner strength. A couple of weeks ago, despite that fact that his ability to speak, decreased, he lay in bed and spoke with a friend for two hours about faith and the goodness of G-d. And so it was with others, time and time again, up until the end.
Eyal taught me many things, different classes to listen to via internet, how to drive my car, and how to think clearly. A couple of years ago I was supposed to visit the US for an extended visit. A few people had invested a lot of time to help organize the trip. The only problem was that I became ill, with what later was diagnosed as mono, and really didn’t have the strength to travel. On the other hand, I didn’t want to offend the people who were working very hard to help me and Hebron. I was in a real bind, not knowing what to do.
Eyal happened to be in the office that day, so I decided to ask his advice. He thought for a moment and then asked, “Did you ask them, in the US, what would happen if you had to cancel?” “No,” I answered. “So call them and listen, not only to what they say, but also how they say it. If they’re really upset, go. But if they can deal with it, stay here.”
Very simple advice. And it worked.
Another man, speaking at the funeral, told how he had been involved in an accident, which crushed his leg. He’d been brought to the hospital, but was left lying in the emergency room, without being treated. After a while, not knowing what to do, he called his friend Eyal and asked him what to do. Eyal heard him and then asked, “Your head, it’s ok? And your neck, your arms and your stomach, they’re all ok? And your leg, left or right? Left – and above the knee or below the knee. Below? That’s all? You injured only on your left leg, below the knee? Man, you have to laugh!” And Eyal started laughing, over the phone, until his friend too started laughing, almost rolling on the floor, thanking G-d that the injury wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.
Eyal’s wife of about 20 years, Einat, told of Eyal’s passing.
‘Eliyahu (Elijah) the prophet, was Eyal’s favorite prophet. He read about him over and over. On Thursday, after I read to him the verses describing how Elihayu left this world, he said to me, “I’m not on the level of Eliyahu, but that’s the way I feel.”
On Shabbat afternoon he told me, “we are not separated. We will always be together, I’m just moving up one floor.” Later, after Shabbat, he tried to tell me something, but couldn’t talk. He motioned with his arm, and I realized he wanted someone to study Torah with him, to pray with him. I called one of his friends, and when he came over and started recited Torah and prayers, Eyal’s eyes opened and he radiated with joy. Later, we were all there in the room. I called a righteous doctor, who could discern the exact moment of the soul’s departure from the body. He sat opposite Eyal, staring at his eyes. Eyal’s face and eyes emanated rapture, seeing the angels awaiting him, above him. He had said that he did not fear death, that he was totally at peace with his situation, and so it was. Suddenly the doctor yelled, ‘Shema Yisrael’ and then all those present did so, and you could actually see his neshama, his soul, leave his body. We weren’t crying, it was a moment of Divine exaltation.’
Last Rosh HaShana eve, following services, I went over to Eyal’s house to wish him a happy New Year. His kids told me that he wasn’t home, that he’d gone to Ma’arat HaMachpela to pray. I told them that if he wanted, there would be prayer services at Beit Hadassah the next morning. But they said that he’d worship again at Machpela.
The next morning, despite his illness and weakness, he was there. But he didn’t only pray. He also trumpeted the Shofar, the ram’s horn, blown every Rosh HaShana. The shofar isn’t blown once. Rather, one hundred times. The laws concerning this special mitzvah are detailed and intricate. Many times, if the sound produced is not exactly right, it must be repeated.
Eyal stood and blew the shofar, on the first day, one hundred times. And he blew the Shofar again, on the second day of Rosh HaShana, one hundred times. And he did not make one mistake, on either day. Not one time did he have to repeat himself. And the sound that he produced from that ram’s horn, I’ve never heard anything like it in my life. So it was, Eyal, sick with cancer, less than a year ago.
Not yet forty one, nine children, and one grandchild, born less than a month ago.
I have no doubt whatsoever, that as Eyal’s neshama, as his soul left his body, in the heaven’s above, hundreds and thousands of ram’s horns began trumpeting, with a voice heard, above them all, ‘the Shofar-blower from Hebron, the Shofar-blower from Ma’arat HaMachpela is arriving. The Shofar-blower is arriving. Let us all go greet the shofar-blower from Hebron.’
Next Rosh HaShana will not be the same.
Eyal will be sorely missed, for many many years to come.
Photos and video at: http://goo.gl/9McW