Wednesday, July 5

Eulogy for Eliyahu Osheri

Eliyahu Osheri, 18-year-old Jewish resident of the West Bank
community of Itamar,
kidnapped and slain by
Palestinian terrorists last Sunday. (Reuters)

From Rebecca Strapp, Jerusalem (courtesy of Judy Lash Balint):

Yesterday I joined a group of several people who desired to pay a shiva call to the Osheri family, mourning their 18 year-old son, Eliyahu, murdered by Arab terrorists last week.

As we approached the Osheri house, we discovered the family sitting shiva in the yard outside. Apparently, the home was too small to contain the large numbers of friends, families, and strangers like myself. I joined the group surrounding Eliyahu's parents. I sat toward the back of the circle and listened and watched the bereaved mother and father. I glalnced behind me and saw a girl, Eliyahu's sister, the source of the horrifying wails at the funeral, who looked like she couldn't be more than ten or eleven, surrounded by a circle of her peers.

The woman sitting next to me reminded me that the town of Itamar (which is populated by around 100 families) has seen its share of tragedies. In the past five years, fourteen members of the community have been murdered in terrorist attacks. I cringed at the thought. And then the woman told me that one of those fourteen had been a dear friend of Eliyahu's. (please see the following link to the unspeakable tragedy of the Shabo family from Itamar:

After sitting with the parents for a little while, I joined a group of three journalists who interviewed Eliyahu's father. The father agreed to speak with the press, for what ended up lasting about an hour. Mr. Osheri spoke of his son's development in the years leading up to his murder last week.

Apparently, Eliyahu was not much of a student in high school. He was not interested in the material being taught. Once he entered a "pre-military" mechina program, however, Eliyahu seemed to turn over a new leaf. His spiritual development progressed very quickly. As his mother had told us earlier, he asked penetrating, thoughtful and deep questions about belief and Judaism. He thrived at his yeshiva.

Mr. Osheri shared with us that Eliyahu's mother had given voice to concern several months back regarding Eliyahu's spiritual growth. His mother worried: "He' s so close to the Almighty now, I'm afraid the Almighty will take him." (How unfortunately prophetic her words were). I was told that when Eliyahu prayed the mincha, afternoon service, it was like watching someone pray the Yom Kippur service.

Eliyahu's father's words left an indelible imprint on me. I kept returning to the picture of Eliyahu smiling, emanating "chein," goodness and a deep spirituality.

After discussing Eliyahu for a while, the questions veered toward Mr. Osheri's own spiritual journey. He shared with us his own path to Judaism. As a non-Jewish child in Australia, he told us, he knew at the age of ten that Catholicism was not for him. He studied East Asian religions in college and found them engaging only on a cursory level. When he lived in New Guinea for two years, he met an architect whose wife happened to be Israeli. This woman encouraged Mr. Osheri to visit and spend time in Israel.

He did. He spent a year living on a non-religious kibbutz. Mr. Osheri explained that it was on that kibbutz that he sensed something special, unique about the Jewish people. The kibbutznikim possessed some sort of intangible spiritual, ethical quality. He asked them the source of that spark. Someone handed Mr. Osheri a pamphlet of "Pirkei Avot," "Ethics of The Fathers." Reading Pirkei Avot, for him, was like discovering a canteen of water in the middle of the desert. Subsequent to his stint on kibbutz, Mr. Osheri returned to Australia where he studied and learned for a year, culminating in his conversion to Judaism.

I was amazed at the quiet, humble and methodical manner in which Mr. Osheri shared such a personal and unbelievable story. Toward the end of the conversation, the Ha'aretz journalist asked him how he would respond to people who think that he should not be living in Itamar. Eliyahu's father softly, yet firmly, answered: "I would tell them to open the Bible and read very closely and discover that G-d gave this Land to only one people, the Jewish people."

On the bus ride back to Jerusalem, I thought about Eliyahu, his parents and his siblings. His parents, such salt-of-the-earth, gentle, spiritual people grieving over the loss of a son. I thought about the people of Itamar, their beautiful town, their idealism. I thought about the little children who were playing in their "gan," schoolyard when I walked through the town. I thought about Mr. Osheri, his spiritual journey and his son Eliyahu, and his own spiritual journey.I thought about Mrs. Osheri, who could not release my hand from hers when I blessed her upon my departure that G-d should comfort her.

These sights are difficult to understand and accept. I am left without words. Only with prayer. For Gilad. For the Osheri family. For the Jewish people. For the State of Israel.

Relatives of Eliyahu Pinchas Osheri during his funeral in Jerusalem,
Thursday, June 29, 2006.

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