SHARON, Massachusetts — Amid sobs of grief but also occasional lighter moments, Jews from across the US and Israel paid their final respects to Ezra Schwartz on Sunday afternoon, three days after the 18-year old was gunned down by a Palestinian terrorist south of Jerusalem.
One hour before the noon funeral, every seat in Temple Sinai of Sharon’s vast hall was taken, forcing several hundred mourners to stand in the lobby and hallways. As light rain fell on a chilly New England afternoon, dozens of attendees clutched umbrellas while listening to a broadcast of the service outside, adjacent to the packed sanctuary.
For more than two hours, Schwartz’s family and teachers eulogized him as a young man with “boundless energy,” capable of “making friends with anyone.” From mentoring his siblings to spending quality time with his grandparents, Schwartz was remembered for earning the respect and love of all kinds of people — “kids with little quirks and idiosyncrasies were his specialty,” according to Schwartz’s grandfather.
Schwartz’s father Ari was the first of a dozen family members and mentors of the teen to speak. His remarks focused on the special relationship Schwartz had with each of his four siblings, as well as children he worked with at summer camp.
“It made us so proud to see the connection he had with those kids,” said Ari of his son’s work at New Hampshire’s Camp Yavneh last summer, where the creative teen won an award for leading campers in the annual sing-off.
Commenting on the role of sports in connecting his family, Ari spoke of his son’s commitment to helping his three younger brothers improve their skills during late-night wiffle ball games and ski weekends. In recent years, Schwartz helped his little brothers get started with Fantasy Football, through which he also kept in touch with friends around the world.
“We know he is okay, we are the ones in pain,” said Ari.
“His life ended abruptly as he was on a mission of chesed (loving kindness),” said Schwartz’s mother Ruth through tears. “Our family will never be complete again,” she said.
Schwartz had been particularly close to his older sister Mollie, who was known to pretend the two were twins.
“From a very, very young age, you looked out for me,” Mollie said through tears. “You played and played with our brothers until there was no playtime left. I’m going to try to be happy for the both of us from now on,” she said.
Officiating the funeral was Young Israel of Sharon rabbi Meir Sendor, who said that his wife, Schwartz’s former kindergarten teacher, used to come home with humorous “Ezra stories.” Recalling a boy “who could not be contained,” Sendor compared his former student to “a bull in a china shop, but in the very best way.”
“His life is a meaningful life, and his death is a meaningful death,” Sendor repeated several times, in a eulogy peppered with examples of Schwartz’s community service and commitment to others.
“Ezra gathered everyone together, and unified everyone together,” said Sendor. “His greatness is how he used his strength to comfort others with great gentleness,” he added.
That Schwartz chose a yeshiva program combining service with learning did not surprise anyone close to the teen, including the rabbi.
“This is what he chose, this is who is he, and this is where he had to be,” said Sendor of Schwartz’s decision to spend a gap year before college in Israel. “He died in the arms of his homeland,” he added.
Following the recitation of Psalms and loved ones’ recollections, the Schwartz family and hundreds of mourners walked one mile to Sharon Memorial Park. There, the murdered teen was buried under a grey, rain-filled sky, close to where he grew up and first dreamed of experiencing life in Israel.