Over a thousand people on Friday attended the funeral of a Jewish man murdered in the Arab Israeli city of Kafr Qassem, with friends and family remembering him as “a man of kindness” who always sought to help others.
Members of Reuven Schmerling’s family wore shirts they had made for his 70th birthday, which they had planned to celebrate together on Thursday, the day after his body was found covered in stab wounds.
“Everything was ready for your birthday. We prepared a song and a presentation, shirts, but the guest of honor never arrived. We did not have time to say goodbye and tell you so many important things,” said Schmerling’s daughter Idit. “Only two days have passed since you left us, and our lives without you are already so lacking.”
Idit went on to mention the pride that her father took in having been the synagogue cantor during the High Holidays and how much the community enjoyed listening to him. “He would have wanted you to join him in singing one of the songs that he sung,” she said as Schmerling’s rendition of a prayer from the Yom Kippur liturgy began playing from the loudspeakers.
As the voice of the deceased rang out, wails from the funeral attendees escalated..
Schmerling’s son Shai, who praised his father for having “believed in every human being” and always seeking to help others, also noted the birthday.
“We were supposed to be celebrating your 70th birthday now, and as we wrote on the t-shirts that we prepared for you, may you stay forever young,” he said. “God, please keep father safe and give strength to mother and the whole family.”
As friends and family remembered Schmerling as a “man of kindness” and a loving grandfather, they also called for action against his killers.
“In the past, Jews could only pray for vengeance. Today, we turn from here to our country, to the state. It is unacceptable that in the center of our country, Jewish blood can be forsaken in this way,” said Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomianski, a friend of Schmerling’s.
“We say to our security forces: Enough. No more. We hope that the property of the murdered will also be destroyed in Kafr Qassem.”
The family has said it has “no doubt” Shcmerling was a victim of terrorism. “For the ailing family, there is no doubt that this despicable murder was committed on nationalistic grounds,” a statement from the family said Thursday.
Elkana’s Rabbi Meir Yehuda Stern said “the abominable murder by evil sinners who have no God in their hearts is another attempt to sever and harm our connection with the Torah and the nation of Israel.”
Schmerling was found dead on Wednesday afternoon in Kafr Qassem’s industrial zone with “signs of violence” on the body, police said. Initial reports indicated he had been stabbed repeatedly. Schmerling was set to celebrate his 70th birthday on Thursday.
The father of four owned a coal business in Kafr Qassem, about a half-hour drive from Elkana. His body was found in one of the business’s storage units by his son, who alerted police and emergency services.
The motive for the suspected murder was still being investigated as the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, joined the probe. Security forces said they were looking at all possible avenues, including a possible work-related row between Schmerling and his employees or business contacts.
The Shin Bet said it was also checking whether the suspected murder was a terror attack driven by a nationalistic or religious motive.
In a Facebook post on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences to the family, while also saying the killers will be brought to justice.
“I would like to send my condolences to the Schmerling family and the Elkana community over the murder of Reuven Schmerling. We will do everything to bring to justice those who committed this shocking murder. May his memory be a blessing,” Netanyahu wrote.
The family will be begin the traditional period of Jewish mourning, known as shiva, at the conclusion of the Sukkot holiday next Thursday evening.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.