A few memories of R’ Ari Fuld z”l Hy”d.
I first met him when he came to Yeshivat Hakotel about 27 years ago. It was flat out strange. It was the beginning of his shana aleph and he was already learning INTENSELY. [Ari was intense – but in a very kind and congenial way. He was unfailingly friendly and an engaging conversationalist]. That almost never happened. Like, at that point many of the boys don’t believe in G-d yet. But R’ Ari – he was “pounding” the Gemara. At one point, he asked me a question on the sugya at the beginning of Brachos [:ב] that discusses the various opinions as to when Shema may be read at night. I didn’t know the answer to his question and felt really badly about that because he really seemed to care very much that he understand the gemara properly.
Some time later he married my wife’s good friend from high school, Miriam [Loecher]. We attended each other’s weddings. At weddings, he was the guy doing the shtick in the middle that only really really strong and athletic guys can do. Like push-ups while lifting himself off the ground in between while the tied together napkins passed under his body [like a jump rope]. ONE-TWO-THREE-TEN-ELEVEN etc. and Ari is still going. Or breaking a cement brick – with his bare hands…. [he was a karate master] and the like.
Before my wedding, I practiced the dance steps to the song “Yidden”, but when they played it, I wasn’t able to do the steps. He saw this and lifted me on his shoulders where he proceeded to do the dance with me on top. That was Ari – he saw a problem and he took it on his shoulders to solve.
When my son Shmuli was six weeks old, he became ill with viral meningitis. My wife stayed with him in the hospital and I took care of our one year old, Gila [at the rate my wife and I were going, we could have had 25 kids. We ended up with six]. I wanted to be near the hospital for Shabbos and he lent me his apartment in Givat Mordechai. I remember that Shabbos well. [Baruch Hashem, Gila is married and Shmuli is alive and well].
Over the years I would see him and always enjoyed talking to him. Except for one thing: He was such an incredibly courageous, strong, almost fearless person who was so passionate about everything he believed in – I felt small in his presence. Not that he did anything to make me feel that way. On the contrary – he was very respectful toward me even though I didn’t necessarily share all of his hashkafos. We never argued and had great mutual affinity. But I knew what he had accomplished, how many times he risked his life to protect Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, how much he had sacrificed for our people – that I felt inferior. Sometimes, one doesn’t have an inferiority “complex” – he is actually inferior… But again – not because of the way he acted but because of who he was. He was a tremendously devoted servant of Hashem, Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. As Rav Kook would sign his correspondence “עבד לעם קודש על אדמת קודש”. Now that he died as a קדוש, a holy martyr killed because he was a Jew – his level is incomprehensible [as Chazal tell us – see Bava Basra 10b]. He LIVED על קידוש השם and died על קידוש השם.
Years back, I met his father Rabbi Fuld at a simcha [I believe]. He related to me that Ari had made a siyum mesechta from what he learned WHILE TRAVELLING TO WORK. What made it more impressive was that he told me that R’ Ari CRIED [this was NOT a cry baby – trust me. More masculine and tough you won’t find] that he had to work and that he couldn’t learn more Torah. At one point he stopped working and came to yeshiva to learn and teach but I guess that financially he couldn’t hold up anymore.
On one hand – tough as nails. Like a super hero. On the other – he laughed easily, was everyone’s friend and LOVED to learn Torah. Rare is it that the Karate Man, the Army Hero, Mr. Macho who “packs heat” [carried a pistol which he used to shoot the terrorist as he was pursuing him and dying at the same time!!] is also a gentle, caring, friendly person, who gets a super geshmak from learning Torah. That was R’ Ari.
On one hand, he was passionate about his beliefs that one should live in Israel and serve in her army. On the other – he wasn’t condescending towards those who didn’t share his passion. He didn’t hate Charedim [as some do] who didn’t serve in the army or [in some cases] live in Israel. He spoke out for what he believed in without being hostile or acerbic his philosophical opponents.
I remember one Thursday night in yeshiva, I was supposed to give my weekly mussar talk to the student body. R’ Ari was asked to speak first [I believe it was Yom Hazikaron]. He spoke with such fire [about, among other things, how he almost died from the shrapnel lodged in his back], I was almost ready to take off my suit right then and there and put on the green army uniform. His דברים were יוצאים מן הלב so they were נכנסים אל הלב.
Over the years we weren’t in touch very much and that is my loss.
Let us all learn from R’ Ari Yoel ben R’ Yonah, to put our ideals first and our material comforts a distant, not second but eleventh. To be dedicated to our families, our Land, our Torah and above all – Hashem. Not to be afraid to speak out for what is right. To be moser nefesh and guf, body and soul, for what really matters.
May Hashem give his family the courage to go on with simcha.
יהי זכרו ברוך!!