Friends and family of Rabbi Shai Ohayon, who was killed in an apparent terror stabbing in Petah Tikva, mourned his loss Wednesday, saying the 39-year-old father of four was a respected father, husband, son and Torah scholar.
“He was an excellent son-in-law, a good father to his children and a good husband to his wife. He was like a son to me,” Ohayon’s father-in-law Ofer Karaz told Hebrew media outlets.
Karaz said his wife and Ohayon’s wife were still “in shock” since receiving the devastating news hours earlier and didn’t know how to digest it.
Eulogizing his son-in-law, Karaz said, “People loved him very much. Everyone would come to hear his Torah lessons. People would say the lessons could give those who heard them goosebumps.”
Ohayon’s friend David Yosef Mugrabi told reporters that his study partner managed to receive his rabbinic ordination “while working to support his family at the same time.”
“He was determined, even though he didn’t have a college degree, to provide for his family with love, support and work,” he said.
“He planned to go to Uman, had purchased a ticket and was waiting to see if it would be possible to fly,” Mugrabi said of Ohayon, a member of the Bratslav hasidic sect whose followers make an annual pilgrimage to the Ukraine gravesite of their late leader Rabbi Nachman. Earlier Wednesday, Kyiv announced that it was shuttering its borders to foreigners through the month of September, when the Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage is slated to take place.
“He was righteous; the Holy One took a holy man,” Mugrabi said.
Mugrabi said he had accompanied Ohayon on Wednesday to a bus stop near their religious seminary, which his friend had left early in order to buy groceries for his family.
“Unfortunately what happened happened, and he will not return home anymore,” he said.
Karaz said he called Ohayon when he saw news reports about the stabbing and did not receive an answer.
“I felt it was him… I called my daughter and she said [Ohayon] had talked to one of the kids earlier but had not answered since. I found out through a friend that it was him,” he said. “It’s hard for me to think of him in the past tense.”
Ohayon is survived by his wife Sivan and their four children: Tohar, 13, Hillel, 11, Shiloh, 9, and Malachi, 4.
Ohayon had moved with his family from Sha’ar Efraim to Petah Tikva three years ago.
The suspect in the attack — identified by Israeli authorities as Khalil Abd al-Khaliq Dweikat, 46, from the northern West Bank — was in Israel with a legal work permit, according to the Shin Bet security service. He was arrested near the scene shortly after the attack at Petah Tikva’s Segula Junction, police said, confirming suspicions of a terror attack.
“The results of the investigation raise the suspicion of a nationalistic motive,” a police statement said.
Dweikat, a father of six from the Nablus area, had no history of terrorist activities, the Shin Bet said.
Upon his arrest, officers searched the suspect and found a blood-stained knife that was apparently used in the attack, police said.
The police handed over Dweikat to the Shin Bet for interrogation. The security service said it was looking into the possibility that he had a history of mental illness, but that it was “too soon to tell” if that could explain the attack.
It is highly irregular for Palestinians with legal work permits to carry out attacks in Israel, since they undergo background checks and regular screenings by Israeli security services. It is similarly uncommon for these kinds of attacks to be carried out by middle-aged men; typically assailants are in their teens or 20s.
“My wife Sara and I embrace the family, the wife and four children who were left today without a father. We will work to demolish the home of the terrorist and seek the most severe punishment,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted on Wednesday night.
“Our thoughts are with the Ohayon family, whose son Rabbi Shai was murdered by a despicable terrorist,” tweeted President Reuven Rivlin. “We have lost a man of Torah, a font of knowledge, a father of four children. The terrorist and his accomplices must face justice. Terror must not win. May his memory be a blessing.”