(Courtesy of YIWP) Four years ago this November, a Palestinian terrorist murdered gap-year student Ezra Schwartz as the teen was on his way to do volunteer work in a Gush Etzion nature preserve. But while his life was taken, his legacy of happiness and kindness has been kindled in the memories of hundreds of thousands of Jews in the U.S., Israel and around the world. And his legacy extends far beyond those memories, according to his mother.
“There have been several boys named for Ezra and there will be more,” Ruth Schwartz, Ezra’s mother, told a capacity crowd during a recent Shabbat at the Young Israel of White Plains, quoting her rabbi, Rabbi Noah Cheses. “We hope that when they get to Israel in 18 years and their friends ask, ‘Why is everyone from Boston named Ezra?’ they will point to the place where Ezra helped out and say, ‘This is why we are called Ezra. Here walked a young man who was a uniquely caring friend to many. We carry his name and legacy.’”
In one of two talks as a guest speaker to the YIWP community, Schwartz pointed to how countless people here and in Israel were “remembering Ezra together” and how that act of remembrance transcends thoughts and feelings to encompass tremendous action: “In order to remember Ezra we not only talk about him, but we build a baseball field in Israel, we sponsor a United Hatzalah ambucycle, we build playgrounds for children, we build beautiful memorials, we name our babies after him and we do the things that Ezra loved to do.”
“Thrust into the most painful circumstances that parents can endure, Ruth and her husband, Ari, have comforted complete strangers who shared in their grief, articulated feelings for which there are no words and donated their time and resources to numerous efforts in Ezra’s memory,” said Sim Shapiro, past president of YIWP and one of several congregants who have been friends of the Schwartzes since college. “Like Racheli Fraenkel and Steven Flatow, Ruth Schwartz has given voice to the pain and grief of Jewish parents who have suffered the horror of losing children to terror in Israel and therefore, by extension, for all of Klal Yisrael.”
In her talk to YIWP, Schwartz pointed out how Ezra’s high school, camp and yeshiva friends continue to be his friends: “They come to our house to visit us often, they share stories but really just want to support us,” she said. “They take our younger boys out to Dave and Busters, out to dinner or they just hang out at our house and play wiffle ball, basketball, football, ping pong or watch sports games together. It is a huge source of pride and a true testament to Ezra, how each of his friends wants to keep him present in their lives.”
Far beyond the Boston community, said Schwartz, “Ezra’s life has inspired so much learning and chesed around the world. It has created an atmosphere for so many people to be kinder and more tolerant friends. Although he was just 18 years old, he was able to inspire people of all ages to be better versions of themselves. Ezra had a wonderful, endearing smile and he made every person feel as though they were the most important person in the room. We can all learn so much from Ezra’s love of all people and his desire to help.”