From Boston to Beit Shemesh, slain Ezra Schwartz honored with service and sports
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From Boston to Beit Shemesh, slain Ezra Schwartz honored with service and sports

A month after his murder by Palestinian terrorists, a look at mitzvah projects — from ‘epic wiffle tournaments’ to polar plunges — inspired by 18-year-old athlete

Friends of Ezra Schwartz took a 'polar plunge' in Massachusetts on November 26, 2015, to raise funds in his memory (Facebook and YouTube)
Friends of Ezra Schwartz took a 'polar plunge' in Massachusetts on November 26, 2015, to raise funds in his memory (Facebook and YouTube)

BOSTON — Jewish communities around the world are marking the one-month commemoration of 18-year-old Ezra Schwartz’s burial following his murder by Palestinian terrorists on November 19.

Schwartz was gunned down while performing volunteer projects near Efrat, south of Jerusalem. The teen’s murder has spurred hundreds of Jews to commit to volunteering and Jewish learning, with many announcing their intentions on social media. Others are donating to Jewish organizations that played a role in Schwartz’s life, including his summer camp and yeshiva in Israel.

Beloved by four siblings, many cousins, and countless friends, Schwartz’s sudden loss led some of them to focus on causes already favored by the slain teen, who moved to Israel for a pre-college gap year at the end of summer.

According to Yeshiva Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh, where Schwartz was enrolled at the time of the attack, members of the Schwartz family who live in Israel will participate in a Friday morning “epic wiffle tournament” for charity at Jerusalem’s Sacher Park. Wiffle ball had been a particular passion for Schwartz, as mentioned by several eulogists during his funeral in Sharon, Massachusetts.

Friends of Ezra Schwartz honor his memory at the Nov. 23, 2015 New England Patriots Game, where a moment of silence was observed for Schwartz (Facebook)
Friends of Ezra Schwartz honor his memory at the November 23, 2015 New England Patriots Game, where a moment of silence was observed for Schwartz (Facebook)

 

Also, Schwartz’s 12-year-old cousin Ethan Thurm has committed to raising $26,000 for United Hazalah — Israel’s volunteer EMS organization — as his bar mitzvah project. On his fundraising page, Thurm called his older cousin, “the coolest, funniest most caring guy,” and noted that Schwartz had raised funds to purchase an “ambucycle” for United Hatzalah in 2010.

Writing that he wants to follow in his late cousin’s “large footsteps,” Thrum has raised almost $19,000 to date, with some donors leaving notes about Schwartz online.

In Boston and elsewhere, Orthodox Jews — the major market for gap year programs in Israel — have committed to sending more students than ever to the Jewish state. At Schwartz’s former yeshiva, students are organizing Friday’s “Wiffle 4 Ezra” tournament in Jerusalem, and a simultaneous “Zumba 4 Ezra” women’s event at the capital’s Yeshiva University campus. Former classmates also completed a mosaic memorial to be placed near the Gush Etzion junction where Schwartz was killed along with two other men.

At Boston University's Hillel, students are organizing service projects in Ezra Schwartz's memory (Elan Kawesch/The Times of Israel)
At Boston University’s Hillel, students are organizing service projects in Ezra Schwartz’s memory (Elan Kawesch/The Times of Israel)

Schwartz has been recalled for his quirky humor, steady friendship and versatile athleticism by a legion of friends from Boston’s Maimonides school, New Hampshire’s Camp Yavneh, and several sports teams. Some friends continue to post YouTube videos and photos of Schwartz to his Facebook memorial page, while others use social media to raise money for causes he identified with in recent years.

On “Remembering Ezra Schwartz,” the teen’s former Facebook page, his friends take quizzes that — for instance — cast Schwartz as Ross in a hypothetical “Friends” line-up, while others post videos from the stadium-wide moment of silence observed for him at a New England Patriots game last month. During the week following Schwartz’s murder, some mourners shared their commitment to reading the entire Old Testament — the Tanakh — to complete a goal set by the teen in Israel.

Ezra Schwartz at Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire several years ago, along with his unit head Nomi Mitchell, who is currently helping students at Boston University's Hillel organize service projects in Schwartz's memory (courtesy)
Ezra Schwartz at Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire several years ago, along with his unit head Nomi Mitchell, who is currently helping students at Boston University’s Hillel organize service projects in Schwartz’s memory (courtesy)

Also on Facebook, a “Mitzvot for Ezra Schwartz Page” allows 665 followers to photograph and share good deeds in honor of Schwartz, such as lighting Shabbat candles and installing a mezuzah. One friend’s memorial project listed 82 specific actions one can take to honor Schwartz, including speaking positively of others and getting to shul on time.

From a chilly “polar plunge” to raise money for Camp Yavneh, to campus Hillels enacting “action-based service projects,” confidantes of Schwartz from all over New England — and people he never met — are just beginning to honor his memory, says Nomi Mitchell, an engagement coordinator at Boston University’s Hillel and Schwartz’s former unit head at Camp Yavneh.

“Both myself and several students here knew Ezra personally, and have been deeply upset by losing him,” Mitchell told The Times of Israel.

“We are speaking about projects for next semester that Ezra would have approved of, and there will be a Mitzvah Day for him and Israel-related programs too,” said Mitchell.

“Students are also dedicating alternative spring break service projects to him in Israel, Mexico and locally,” she added.

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