Princes Among Men: Lessons From The Beleaguered

One of the most heartbreaking, yet inspiring, books of recent times is Princes Among Men: Memories of Eight Young Souls, the volume put out by the Mercaz HaRav  yeshiva in Jerusalem after eight students were murdered there last year by an Israeli Arab jihadist.  Princes Among Men is a portrait not only of the young men themselves, but also of a community that the West should get to know better.

The "religious Zionist" community, of which the Mercaz HaRav is the flagship, may well be the most maligned population on the planet.  Since 1967 the religious Zionist community has played a leading role in establishing Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and (formerly) Gaza - the "occupied territories," in politically correct parlance.  Accordingly, this community has been branded "extremist" by those to whom Mahmoud Abbas is a "moderate."  The Mercaz HaRav was undoubtedly targeted in an effort to strike at the heart of the Jewish nation. 

In the aftermath of the attack, the nation began to realize that it had lost eight young leaders.  The boys gunned down by the terrorist were all exceptional students, who on the fatal evening had been caught in or near the yeshiva library while most of the student body was preparing for a new-month celebration.  As the stories of these young men were told, grief was accompanied by a paradoxical exaltation.  Addressing his murdered son Yochai, Rabbi Tuvia Lifshitz said of the thousands who came to console the family:

It seems that even more than they came to console us, they came to partake of your distinctiveness.  A life of Torah, and a Torah full of life.  Harmony, perfection, joy, and above all, service, diligence, and effort. 

Similar words were written about Neriya Cohen, Segev Avihail, Avraham David Moses, Yonatan Eldar, Roei Roth, Yonadav Haim Hirshfeld, and Doron Meherete, by parents, teachers, siblings and classmates. 

From the reminiscences collected in this book, "joy" is the word that stands out most.  The joy that radiates from the stories of the eight is the joy of those who believe they are serving the Creator, in small ways as well as great, from mastering a difficult subject in Talmud to cleaning up after an excursion.  And there was also play and merrymaking; the scholarly, staunchly-patriotic Neriya Cohen had been elected "Purim rabbi," to preside over the holiday spoofs. 

"Discipline" is another prominent theme.  Several of the boys adhered to self-made learning schedules.  He didn't waste time," is a common refrain.  Needless to say, as Orthodox Jews the eight accepted and lived by a great many rules, which they learned and followed not reluctantly but with gusto.  "Helpfulness" - to family members, friends, and members of the community - is also frequently noted, as is "honesty."  

For these young men, love of Torah was bound up with love for the land of Israel, and devotion to study and prayer did not preclude practical interests.  Most of the eight engaged in fitness training and intended to join the army.  The book contains many anecdotes that speak of the young men's creative enterprise and physical courage. 

Each one of these portraits is individually unforgettable.  As a writer, I am particularly haunted by Yonadav Haim Hirshfeld, who was a gifted and prolific writer in addition to being an outstanding Talmud student who took on extra studies.  He was also a musician, a popular and devoted youth-group leader, and a junior entrepreneur.  With all this, he found time to pay weekly visits to his ailing great-grandmother.  What a contrast between that young life and the modern image of the artist, feckless and antisocial but forgiven for the sake of his "art."  "Perfection of the life or of the work," the inescapable alternative as Yeats phrases it.  If only Yonadav had lived to produce the work that was in him, and give that alternative the lie.

There's a video online -- "Strength and Growth - Amidst Adversity", produced by One Israel Fund --  that affords a glimpse of the life for which these young men were training.  From panorama shots of the arid mountains of Judea and Samaria, the camera zooms in on hilltop settlements protected by electronic surveillance and the constant readiness of their young men.  In this setting, representatives of the settler community speak of their lives with energy, enthusiasm, and faith.  The father of Yonadav Hirshfeld speaks of good deeds done in memory of the departed; his mother notes that in the wake of the murder a youth center is finally being built in their settlement, Kochav HaShachar.   A resident of Efrat, Eve Harow, puts the present settler population at 300,000 and sums up:  "We're willing to make the sacrifices, we're willing to do whatever it takes to stay out here. We're representing Jews all over the world by staying out here...We're protecting everybody, everywhere." 

How this community keeps up its courage and continues to build in the face of its would-be destroyers - this is what Princes Among Men could begin to teach us.  To the extent that these lessons can be learned, these eight young leaders will not have died in vain.

Princes Among Men:  Memories of Eight Young Souls is published by Feldheim and can be ordered at feldheim.com.

Esther Cameron edits The Deronda Review and www.pointandcircumference.com.
One of the most heartbreaking, yet inspiring, books of recent times is Princes Among Men: Memories of Eight Young Souls, the volume put out by the Mercaz HaRav  yeshiva in Jerusalem after eight students were murdered there last year by an Israeli Arab jihadist.  Princes Among Men is a portrait not only of the young men themselves, but also of a community that the West should get to know better.

The "religious Zionist" community, of which the Mercaz HaRav is the flagship, may well be the most maligned population on the planet.  Since 1967 the religious Zionist community has played a leading role in establishing Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and (formerly) Gaza - the "occupied territories," in politically correct parlance.  Accordingly, this community has been branded "extremist" by those to whom Mahmoud Abbas is a "moderate."  The Mercaz HaRav was undoubtedly targeted in an effort to strike at the heart of the Jewish nation. 

In the aftermath of the attack, the nation began to realize that it had lost eight young leaders.  The boys gunned down by the terrorist were all exceptional students, who on the fatal evening had been caught in or near the yeshiva library while most of the student body was preparing for a new-month celebration.  As the stories of these young men were told, grief was accompanied by a paradoxical exaltation.  Addressing his murdered son Yochai, Rabbi Tuvia Lifshitz said of the thousands who came to console the family:

It seems that even more than they came to console us, they came to partake of your distinctiveness.  A life of Torah, and a Torah full of life.  Harmony, perfection, joy, and above all, service, diligence, and effort. 

Similar words were written about Neriya Cohen, Segev Avihail, Avraham David Moses, Yonatan Eldar, Roei Roth, Yonadav Haim Hirshfeld, and Doron Meherete, by parents, teachers, siblings and classmates. 

From the reminiscences collected in this book, "joy" is the word that stands out most.  The joy that radiates from the stories of the eight is the joy of those who believe they are serving the Creator, in small ways as well as great, from mastering a difficult subject in Talmud to cleaning up after an excursion.  And there was also play and merrymaking; the scholarly, staunchly-patriotic Neriya Cohen had been elected "Purim rabbi," to preside over the holiday spoofs. 

"Discipline" is another prominent theme.  Several of the boys adhered to self-made learning schedules.  He didn't waste time," is a common refrain.  Needless to say, as Orthodox Jews the eight accepted and lived by a great many rules, which they learned and followed not reluctantly but with gusto.  "Helpfulness" - to family members, friends, and members of the community - is also frequently noted, as is "honesty."  

For these young men, love of Torah was bound up with love for the land of Israel, and devotion to study and prayer did not preclude practical interests.  Most of the eight engaged in fitness training and intended to join the army.  The book contains many anecdotes that speak of the young men's creative enterprise and physical courage. 

Each one of these portraits is individually unforgettable.  As a writer, I am particularly haunted by Yonadav Haim Hirshfeld, who was a gifted and prolific writer in addition to being an outstanding Talmud student who took on extra studies.  He was also a musician, a popular and devoted youth-group leader, and a junior entrepreneur.  With all this, he found time to pay weekly visits to his ailing great-grandmother.  What a contrast between that young life and the modern image of the artist, feckless and antisocial but forgiven for the sake of his "art."  "Perfection of the life or of the work," the inescapable alternative as Yeats phrases it.  If only Yonadav had lived to produce the work that was in him, and give that alternative the lie.

There's a video online -- "Strength and Growth - Amidst Adversity", produced by One Israel Fund --  that affords a glimpse of the life for which these young men were training.  From panorama shots of the arid mountains of Judea and Samaria, the camera zooms in on hilltop settlements protected by electronic surveillance and the constant readiness of their young men.  In this setting, representatives of the settler community speak of their lives with energy, enthusiasm, and faith.  The father of Yonadav Hirshfeld speaks of good deeds done in memory of the departed; his mother notes that in the wake of the murder a youth center is finally being built in their settlement, Kochav HaShachar.   A resident of Efrat, Eve Harow, puts the present settler population at 300,000 and sums up:  "We're willing to make the sacrifices, we're willing to do whatever it takes to stay out here. We're representing Jews all over the world by staying out here...We're protecting everybody, everywhere." 

How this community keeps up its courage and continues to build in the face of its would-be destroyers - this is what Princes Among Men could begin to teach us.  To the extent that these lessons can be learned, these eight young leaders will not have died in vain.

Princes Among Men:  Memories of Eight Young Souls is published by Feldheim and can be ordered at feldheim.com.

Esther Cameron edits The Deronda Review and www.pointandcircumference.com.