A few weeks from now, Rosh Chodesh Adar, will be the second anniversary of the terrorist attack at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav. Although this event shocked and horrified Jews and all decent human beings around the world, it resonated particularly with MMY students. After all, Merkaz HaRav is located just a few blocks from MMY, and we go there for Tefillot during every "In" Shabbat, Purim, Yom HaAtzmaut, and other occasions. Every MMY girl has powerful memories of tefillot in their Bet Midrash, and in some cases in the very library where the attack took place.
As part of the effort to eternally memorialize the martyrs and to use the tragedy as a springboard for positive accomplishments as the best weapon to combat the terrorist's evil designs, three MMY Alumnae, Deena Klein (5767), Aliza Kranzler (5768) and Tova Levin (5768) joined with several other individuals to organize the world-wide "B'lev Echad" campaign to unite Jews all over the world. The event, which took place on Rosh Chodesh Adar, centered around the anonymous donation of eight Sifrei Torah in memory of the eight boys. Jewish schools and communities around the world, as well as countless individuals, participated in special learning and mitzvah projects in commemoration of the event. Tens of thousands joined by live webcast, and our talmidot in Israel also participated by learning the entire Tanach, and by attending the event in person.
To commemorate the yahrzeit and the one-year anniversary of this event, we present the following reflections, written by Deena shortly afterwards.
What I experienced today can only be described as "a once in a lifetime experience." I had been part of the B'lev Echad committee for the past 6 months, yet going into today, I still had no clue what it would actually be like. I will try my best to put into words what exactly took place and how I felt. Nevertheless, words cannot possibly explain how much emotion is inside of me.
After arriving at 2:00 pm, the members of the committee were able to go into a separate room to look at the 8 Sifrei Torah together: 6 Ashkenazi Torahs, and 2 Sefardi ones, all extremely beautiful. Walking into a room in the library and seeing 8 Sifrei Torah lying out on a table, the first thing that automatically popped into my head was: this is the exact same room where the bodies of 8 boys were lying in tallesim, exactly one year ago. Here, in their place, were Sifrei Torah: the very thing for which they died. These Sifrei Torah are here now, to help them live on.
The Torahs were then brought to various locations where the final letters would be filled in. Two were in the "Yashlatz" (high school) bet midrash, the room that, one year ago, was being set up for a Rosh Chodesh Adar Chagiga, which forced 5 of the 8 boys to go to the library to continue learning. Most people I know would take the break from learning, and simply go and relax in their rooms. But these 5 special boys would not even think of wasting any time from learning - and because of that they were brutally murdered. Four of the Torahs were in the library, where the attack took place. One thing that really struck me were the signs with the arrows indicating the location of each boy’s Torah. Coincidentally or not, 4 of the signs pointing to the library were perfectly aligned next to one of the bullet holes left by the merciless attacker. To me, that really hit home. This bullet hole declares "Yes, you succeeded in attacking us. However, we have not been defeated! Inside the very room where you tried to bring us down, we are writing Sifrei Torah to continue our learning and to continue serving Hashem."
Watching all the different families react was truly remarkable. The Meharte family from Ethiopa was probably the most inspiring thing for me to watch, and brought home the idea of “B'lev Echad”. Many Gedolim showed up to fill in letters, including the Bostoner rebbe (who passed away a few months later - ed.), all the Rashei Yeshiva, and many of the talmidim from the Yeshiva.
Watching the anonymous donor and his family fill in the letters of each of the Sifrei Torah was particularly amazing. Reporters followed him everywhere, but each time they asked what his name is, he simply replied “it doesn’t make a difference, you’ve probably never heard of it”, and then continued to focus on the ketiva. I learned a lot about the midah of anava from that one man and his family. Imagine being completely incognito at an event that you’ve spent so much money on; being nothing more than an observer of something you’ve put your entire neshama into! Spending Shabbat with this family and learning from them was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.
Following the completion of the final letters, the Sifrei Torah were brought to one location outside, with each of the fathers of the boys gripping their Torahs for dear life. It looked as if they were holding onto their son who they lost, and would do anything to have back. Watching these fathers exit the balcony into the streets was one of the most emotional parts of the night. One of the fathers who has a connection with the anonymous family, made eye contact with them and he was walking down the stairs, mouthed “thank you” and kissed his Torah. Tears immediately began streaming down my face. All I kept thinking was how much this father must miss his son, and how this Torah was something that was going to help him live on. The inspiration I took from these parents is something I will take with me forever. These are parents whose sons were murdered, and instead of being angry with Hashem, they were embracing His greatest gift. Instead of being angry at the Torah which their sons died learning, they were continuing to embrace it.
Going out into the streets and seeing over ten thousand people was also an unforgettable experience. We saw many different types of jews: Israelis, Americans, Chasidim, Chilonim, Charedim, Dati Leumi…all there to celebrate the 8 holy neshamot and the Torah to which they were so commited. One year ago, a similar number of people crowded into this street for the Levayot. But tonight was different. The people were dancing, singing, and celebrating.
After dancing in the street, the Sifrei Torah were brought into the main Bet Midrash of Merkaz Harav. The room filled up immediately, with the 8 fathers in the front holding their Sifrei Torah and singing, “Avinu malkeinu ptach shaarei shamayim litfilateinu”. As part of the ceremony, the Rashei Yeshiva presented a gift to the hero who shot the terrorist and brought an end to the attack. He seemed embarrassed, as if he felt he didn't deserve the honor. But this was a man who took initiative, who ran in from across the street and risked his life to save other Jews.
The speeches were webcast around the world, watched by over 75,000 Jews on every continent. At the end, we all sang "Acheinu kol bet Yisrael" together. What an appropriate message for such an inspiring evening. "Hamakom yerachem aleihem, v'yotziem mitzara lirvacha, ume'afela l'ora u'mishibud l'geula – hashta, ba'agala u'vizman kariv!"