BOSTON — Remembering him as both compassionate and tough, friends of Ezra Schwartz reflected on his short life during the hours following news of the 18-year old’s murder by a Palestinian terrorist on Thursday.
A native of Sharon, Massachusetts, Schwartz was spending his gap year before college at a yeshiva in Beit Shemesh. Early on Thursday, Schwartz and several classmates visited Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, to deliver food to lone soldiers and visit a memorial for three Israeli boys murdered last summer. As Schwartz and his friends waited in a traffic jam to leave the area, an Uzi-wielding Palestinian, now in custody, killed the American teenager and two men, leaving five other yeshiva students wounded.
From lifelong camp buddies to teammates on his high school baseball team, friends of Schwartz recalled a highly driven young man, known for telling good jokes and helping bring others out of their shells.
“Ezra was always asking me how he could do better, and he was always checking up on even the quietest camper,” said Aliza Abolafia, a University of Massachusetts sophomore who supervised Schwartz in his role as counselor at New Hampshire’s Camp Yavneh.
Having attended the camp as a child, Schwartz effortlessly transitioned into the role of counselor, according to some of his numerous Yavneh friends.
“He brought warmth and silliness to every room that he entered,” Abolafia told The Times of Israel, along with the revelation that Schwartz had been a “notoriously mischievous camper” during his younger days at the sleepaway camp.
“The first week of this summer we decided to give Ezra the ‘Outstanding Counselor’ award, and there were some who were a little surprised and even skeptical at first,” said Abolafia. “To us, there was no other choice,” she said.
In addition to connecting with shy campers, Schwartz was respected for his role as captain of the baseball team at Maimonides School, the modern Orthodox high school outside Boston from which he graduated in May.
“Even during brutal practices or after a loss, Ezra cracked jokes and made everyone laugh, including the coaches,” said Zachary Blitstein, a former teammate of Schwartz.
“Ezra also showed his toughness,” Blitstein told The Times of Israel. “Even though he was one of the shortest guys on the field, he was probably the toughest guy I have ever known. He did the dirty things like diving for grounders, or sliding into home plate. He was such a joy to be around every day,” added Blitstein.
According to close friend Sarah Salinger, Schwartz was the kind of friend who urged others to conquer their fears and experience as much of life as possible.
“One time we were at a water park and he dragged me all the way up to the top of this crazy dangerous water slide,” said Salinger, currently a student at George Washington University. “I was so mad at him, and never told him how grateful I was that he helped me conquer my fear,” she said.
Having met each other at summer camp as ten-year olds, Schwartz and Salinger were “inseparable” ever since, she said. On his Facebook profile, now filled with messages of mourning, Schwartz had jokingly listed Salinger as his wife.
“We had a pact that if neither of us were married by 30, then we would get married,” Salinger told The Times of Israel. “Ezra was my best friend. He had a mischievous side and got into trouble at camp for things like staying out past curfew, even though all he would do was star-gaze,” she said.
Though Schwartz was excited to attend Rutgers University in the fall, his primary passion in life was connecting to Israel, according to Salinger.
“Ezra had an unconditional love for Israel,” said Salinger. “When I was talking about being so excited to go to college, he would just say he couldn’t wait to go to Israel,” she said.
In addition to loving Israel, several of Schwartz’s friends noted his passion for helping others. Former camp counselor Jeremy Tibbetts was not surprised to learn that Schwartz had just finished delivering food to Israeli soldiers before the attack.
“Ezra’s soul yearned to help others,” said Tibbetts. “He was the kind of person who would invest hours in others, who would go out of his way to sit with a kid who was struggling. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he was volunteering to distribute food to lone soldiers — it fits who Ezra was and always will be,” he added.
Though remembered for occasional mischief and wise-cracking, Schwartz was unanimously praised for reaching out to people in need of friends, and encouraging others — including his four siblings — to be themselves.
“Ezra always had a strong sense of what was the right thing to do,” said Tibbetts. “As he grew up, his conviction to act on that sense grew as well.”