'He's like Iron Man': Friends describe David Stern as educator, hero

David and his wife, Rachel, were on their way to Jerusalem when they were attacked by a Palestinian terrorist in Huwara.

 David Stern and his family (photo credit: COURTESY OF THE FAMILY)
David Stern and his family
(photo credit: COURTESY OF THE FAMILY)

“He’s like Iron Man,” said a friend of David Stern, the resident of Itamar who was seriously wounded in a shooting attack in Huwara on Sunday.

Stern is known in the Samaria region and beyond as an educator and an active member of the community.

Stern and his wife, Rachel, were on their way to a class at the Machon Shilo center in Jerusalem on Sunday when they were attacked by a Palestinian terrorist in Huwara who shot dozens of bullets toward their vehicle. After initially losing consciousness and needing to be intubated, Stern regained consciousness on Monday at Rabin Medical Center.

Making aliyah to Israel and teaching martial arts in Itamar

The couple immigrated to Israel from Far Rockaway, New York, in 2005. Before immigrating, Stern served in the US Marines and trained in Ninjutsu martial arts in Japan for several years.

Roei Mahluf, a friend of the Sterns who works for the Itamar secretariat, described David as “Iron Man,” pointing to the many activities he does for the community in Itamar and elsewhere. Stern teaches a martial arts class to students in Itamar and in schools throughout the region, providing them with tools for self-defense and self-discipline.

 Israeli troops stand guard at a shooting scene, in Huwara, in the West Bank, March 19, 2023. (credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS) Israeli troops stand guard at a shooting scene, in Huwara, in the West Bank, March 19, 2023. (credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

“All his students really love him,” Mahluf told The Jerusalem Post. “His class is always full to the brim. He knows how to give the students the tools they need. The people who come to his martial arts class actually become less violent. He doesn’t just teach fighting, he’s really an educator.”

In a Ynet article published in 2012, Stern mentioned that he had taught Yoav Fogel, who was later murdered in Itamar in 2011. Stern noted in the article that more children in the settlement began learning martial arts after the attack.

“They feel that the horrific attack against the Fogel family obligates them to be prepared,” he was quoted as saying. “I feel that the class gives them a sense of strength and security. I pray that if, heaven forbid, a child needs to use the knowledge he gains in my classes, he will be able to defend himself against terrorists.”

Stern also referenced martial arts classes he provides to ultra-Orthodox teenagers in Itamar, saying, “When children feel disconnected, this is a way to help them feel connected. It’s a way of life, a system that instills values and more than anything, it enables them to gain self-respect. These are children who feel that they have failed in life.”

Stern also volunteers for the settlement’s security team and is the deputy military security coordinator for Itamar.“He shows up for every incident,” noted Mahluf.

Stern and his wife, Rachel, have a small farm in Itamar where they raise sheep. Mahluf noted that Stern brings all sorts of new ways to raise sheep and animals from abroad.

Stern’s grandmother said on Monday that Stern is “a very good guy and a devoted grandson. I love him dearly and I’m thankful that by some miracle he escaped.”

She referred to Stern’s time in the US Marines, saying, “We never know what we have to go through.... His training in the Marines saved his life because he was quickly able to shoot at this terrorist and put a tourniquet on his own arm to stop the bleeding.”

At a class after the attack on Sunday, Rabbi David Bar-Hayim, the head of Machon Shilo, said Rachel called him from the scene of the attack and told him that her husband was injured and asked him to pray for him.

“I truly love this family, they’re a very special family. I was almost incapacitated for a moment,” Bar-Hayim said.

“Most people, when they’re shot in the head, don’t do very well afterward. I cannot describe to you all the thoughts that were racing through my mind. David was hit in the right arm by one bullet twice, and the other bullet grazed the back of his skull and he’s okay. The words neis gamur [“absolute miracle”] don’t cover it. It turns out Hashem loves this family very much. It is truly a miracle.”

After the attack, The Chesed Fund website launched a campaign to raise funds for the Stern family to help while Stern is unable to work. As of Monday afternoon, the campaign had raised more than $155,000 from over 1,500 contributors.

On Sunday, Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan referenced US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides after the attack, stating, “Come here to the hospital now and enter the room with me to look [Stern] in the eyes and give answers, give explanations. This resident is a true Jewish hero, the glory of the settlement in Samaria, who protected his wife with his own body; a martial arts man, a security man and an educator. While the armed terrorist was shooting at him on the main road and he was wounded in the head by the gunshot, he pulled out his weapon and fired back. With his resourcefulness, he saved his life and that of his wife.

Religious Zionist Party MK Tzvi Sukkot said on Sunday, “I’ve known the injured man for many years. He’s a dear friend, a professional fighter and level-headed. After a direct attack, he managed to return fire, hit the terrorist and take care of himself. A miracle has happened here!”