Pardes community mourns loss of beloved alumnus

Polish-born man "fell in love with Judaism" and converted in 2005.

robert  (photo credit: Katka Reske)
(photo credit: Katka Reske)
The body of Polish-born Israeli Robert Dov HaEzrachi was recovered Monday morning near Dahab. HaEzrachi suffered a diving accident on Thursday in the nearly 62-meter deep drop of the Blue Hole, the spectacular and dangerous diving site in Sinai, where he had worked as a diving instructor for the last four years. HaEzrachi, née Wieckowski, first came to Israel as a student at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem in 2003 when he was 40 and studied through 2005, the year he converted to Judaism. Before his conversion, HaEzrachi made a unique contribution to the Jewish world by helping to translate the Torah into modern Polish for the new Jewish community there, The Jerusalem Post reported in 2005. "He was a terrific student," recalled David Bernstein, dean of the Pardes Institute. "He was serious about his desire to join the Jewish people and a real mensch. He fell in love with Judaism in Poland and came here." HaEzrachi took an active role at Pardes, acting as construction manager of the first rooftop succa in 2004. "He designed it and put it together," said Bernstein. "He was very handy." The student-initiated succa has been an institution of Pardes ever since, employed for learning and eating and enjoying Succot on the institute's rooftop. He remained an integral part of the Pardes community even after his official graduation and conversion, helping out in the kitchen whenever he was in Jerusalem. "He was a familiar face around here," said Bernstein. HaEzrachi's family notified Bernstein of his death Sunday morning. Rabbi Zvi Wolff, one of the teachers with whom HaEzrachi was closest, has been "constantly on the phone" with the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, in efforts to bring HaEzrachi back to Israel, as his body is currently at an Egyptian hospital. "They have been wonderful, as efficient as they are helpful," Wolff said of the Egyptian officials and Israeli Consul Eyal Siso. Siso will pick up the body and drive it to the Israeli border, where he will be met by an ambulance driver from ZAKA as arranged by Rabbi Shaul Farber of Itim. "The ambulance driver has said he will 'sleep in the car and wait all night' if necessary," said Wolff, as they are unsure when the border crossing will be. Though HaEzrachi had never explicitly told his non-Jewish family, all of whom still reside in Poland, that he wanted a Jewish burial in Israel, they "understood that he would want to be buried here," said Bernstein. In a letter to Pardes, they wrote that although they would want to have him closer to the family in Poland, it was Robert's life decision to be Jewish and he would "want Jerusalem." His Polish and American relatives will be coming to Israel, many of them for the first time, on Tuesday for the funeral. Pardes will hold a funeral for him in Jerusalem. "He had no family of his own in Israel," said Bernstein. "Pardes was his family."