Bi-Cultural Day School grieved as a community following the tragic news of the murder of Ezra Schwartz, an 18-year-old American student working as a volunteer in Israel when he died in a terrorist attack on November 19. In his memory, Bi-Cultural students joined together on December 21 to mark the end of the shloshim period (the 30-day period following burial) by gathering together in prayer, song and service–finding meaning, solace and support for each other in this time of sadness.
Schwartz was known to many Bi-Cultural students through his work as a camp counselor at Camp Yavneh, a summer camp in New Hampshire. Students knew him as a special person. As a result, a core group of middle-schoolers wanted to specially honor the loss of their good friend and counselor by performing good deeds and holding a unique commemoration in his memory.
“We were all really touched and honored to have known him,” said eighth grader Douglas Herman, who helped organize the service along with several other eighth grade students. “We just wanted to do something in his memory; he died doing a mitzvah for other people in Israel, and he was someone who we all loved and will never forget.” Herman and his classmates decided that they wanted to honor the memory of their friend by turning to prayer as a united school community to express their emotions; they wanted the majority of the school to recite the entire Book of Psalms.
The students, with the help of one of their Jewish Studies teachers, Morah Neeley Konak, prepared for this special day by providing each class, from grades two through four, with their own Tehillim (Psalm portion), which were recited in the classrooms with their own teachers. At the same time, the students from grades five through eight recited Psalms in their entirety, gathering together to speak about Schwartz and their personal connection to him.
“In times of tragedy like this one, there really aren’t any good answers to these types of questions, of why someone like Ezra was taken from us so young,” said Maya Jubas, an eighth grader who knew Schwartz from Camp Yavneh. “I was lucky to have known Ezra and his brother Hillel. He was kind, energetic, spirited and hard-working; tragedy sometimes can unite people and we hope to continue to unite to do good deeds in his name,” Jubas continued.
Michal Smart, Associate Principal, Judaic Studies, explained of the service, “The Shloshim is such a meaningful time in the mourning process; it provides us with personal and meaningful closure, and gives us the chance to do good deeds in Ezra’s memory. A person’s influence and effect doesn’t stop when they’re gone; it’s up to us to continue the healing through Tzedakah, and Chesed in Ezra’s memory. In this way, we are helping their Neshamah (soul) continue to thrive.”
By Dora Salm