On Sunday, December 20, 2020, 52-year-old Esther Horgen did not return from a run she took near her home in Tal Menashe. Horgen, a mother of six, was brutally murdered in the Reihan forest by a Palestinian terrorist who irrationally sought vengeance for the life of a security prisoner who had passed away six weeks earlier of cancer while in Israeli custody.Upon hearing about Esther’s murder, Rabbi Tuly Weisz, founder of Israel365 and coordinator of the organization’s Israel Charity Fund, sprang into action. Israel365’s Charity Fund mounted a fundraiser immediately. Nearly 1,000 people, Jews and Christian Zionists from around the world, contributed in Esther’s memory. But that wasn’t enough for Weisz who recounts, “When I went to visit the Horgen family during shiva [the seven-day mourning period], to present them with the funds, I got to speak with [Esther’s husband] Binyamin, who was very warm and very appreciative. “He sat me down to tell me all about Esther, and how special she was and how talented she was and how vibrant she was. He showed me some of her artwork, which was decorating the house.”
On the spot, less than three months before Purim, Weisz decided to produce a special megillah in Esther Horgen’s memory, using her artwork. For Weisz, who had already published the 2,200-page The Israel Bible, the snap decision was “a natural leap.”He shared that his real motivation was because, “so many people become jaded and cynical about terrorism. It really meant a lot to me that people should remember [who] the special woman Esther Horgen was, so that her memory should live on and that her death should not be in vain.”Weisz emphasized the parallels he saw between Horgen and Queen Esther. “Queen Esther stood up for her people. She was called to the palace to stand up for her people ‘for such a time as this.’ And, interestingly enough, it says in the beginning of the megillah that she was called to the palace of the king in the 10th month. “Esther Horgen was killed in the 10th month, in the month of Tevet, [her soul] returned to the King of Kings. That’s on her matzevah [headstone] by the way. Her name was Esther, and she was this beautiful woman who found favor in the eyes of everybody who saw her.”“When the turn came for Esther daughter of Avichayil – the uncle of Mordechai, who had adopted her as his own daughter – to go to the king, she did not ask for anything but what Hegai, the king’s eunuch, guardian of the women, advised. Yet Esther won the admiration of all who saw her” (Esther 2:15).Horgen’s husband Benjamin told this story about his wife, which emphasizes Weisz’s point.
“I travel to India often for work. One time, my wife Esther joined me. While I was working, she went to see the sites and observe the culture.“She was walking to a special temple she had heard about and noticed that all the people around were men. They were staring at her in astonishment. ‘Who is this white lady and how did she come to be here in this highly un-touristy spot?!’ [The attention] didn’t bother Esther too much and she proceeded to the temple, took pictures, and marveled at the place.“Suddenly, she saw an Indian woman and the two soon began talking and connecting with a language that is less about broken words and more about love, friendship and humanity. The woman actually invited Esther back to her house. “This astonishes me. I’ve been to India many times and yet no one has ever extended such courtesy to me. There was something special about Esther that made everyone connect with her on a deeper level, even after just one meeting.”WEISZ EXPLAINED how, learning about the fineness of Esther Horgen’s character “just a few weeks before Purim, it was a really natural idea to commemorate her life,” with a megillah in her memory.In addition to being illuminated with her artwork, which seems, eerily enough, to have been created specifically for this volume, Weisz commissioned a brand new translation by Rabbi Mordechai Gershon and a significantly more extensive commentary on the text.“We also included a poem she wrote, in response to a terror attack. The poem is titled ‘Fear’ and in it, she talks about her faith in God, despite these terror attacks.” It seems to Weisz that Horgen was “tapping into some kind of source, some noble and divine energy. She wrote about how we need to respond to terrorism by bringing more light and doing more good in the world.”The megillah includes letters from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin along with other essays in her memory. Her husband also wrote an introduction to the megillah and shared with the Magazine what the family is planning to do in her memory. “Esther was murdered in the forest nearby our house. This is a beautiful place that the terrorist did not succeed to defile. We want to turn the forest into a point of attraction for all, to make it accessible and attractive, so that as many as possible will want to come and enjoy the place, connect with nature, with themselves, with God [and even] exercise in this beautiful and peaceful environment – exactly as Esther did so often.“We plan to add to the forest – while conserving its wild and untouched nature – sport installations in the spirit of Vita Parcours, as can be found in various parts of northern Europe. “If the budget allows it, we want to create a path with maximum accessibility for disabled persons and families with small kids so that everyone can come and enjoy the area. It is important for us to make it available to all – without any distinctions.” Horgen shared that all the signs will be in many languages, including Hebrew, English, French, Arabic and Braille. “We plan to install signs in the park with explanations about the place and the sport challenges, but also about Esther’s legacy – with QR codes linked to her artwork, her writing, songs and poems written in her memory (there are so many!) and much more.”Weisz shared that the megillah is “a total nonprofit initiative. The proceeds from the sale of the megillah are going to fund the Esther Horgen Memorial Forest and Park at Tal Menashe. The family didn’t want it to become a place of fear. They wanted it to be calm, to remain a place of life and hope and optimism and joy. “They already started breaking ground, doing just that. They need to put security cameras there, but they also want to add more places for kids to play, for teenagers to hang out and for people to exercise at that location. The proceeds from the sale are going to be used to plant trees and beautify this area.”Weisz shared that, just as the story of Purim itself is full of miracles, this megillah was produced in a miraculous way, in just three weeks.“Initially when I reached out to our book designer and our graphic artist,” he said, “they all thought it was a beautiful idea. And they said, ‘This will be great for next Purim.’ And so I said, ‘Next? We can’t do this for next Purim!’“You know, nobody ever does a book in three weeks. It’s impossible. But everybody who participated in producing this was so moved by Esther Horgen’s story, her life and her death, and the sheer beauty of her exquisite artwork. And they really, really worked so diligently, so selflessly. It was a true labor of love.” The Megillah is being sold for $25 online and is available for NIS 50 to those in Israel. To learn more, go to: theisraelbible.com/esther.