Yesterday, at the fresh grave of Rabbi Elimelech Shapira stood his wife Rivka, embracing her eight children: 17-year-old Reut; 15-year-old Ortal; Hadar, 13; Elyashiv, 11; Evyatar, 9; Hillel, 7; Zimrat, 5; and Hananel, 3. They stood and grieved for their father, who was killed by terrorists when he traveled at 3:30 a.m. from his home in the settlement of Peduel in Samaria to a Bible lecture in Bnei Brak.
Rabbi Elimelech Shapira, 43, studied in the hesder yeshiva [a program that combines yeshiva studies with army service] in Kiryat Shmona and studied afterward in a yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Eleven years ago, he moved to Peduel in western Samaria. There he founded the Eretz Tzvi pre-army academy and headed it ever since, along with Rabbi Meir Katz.
About 170 students attend the academy, which is meant to prepare young religious high-school graduates to serve in the army “with their bodies and souls,” through Jewish studies and physical training. Hundreds of young men who studied there serve in army combat units.
But Elimelech Shapira was not only known as a rabbi. No less was he known for his great love for music. He enchanted many with his flute. “He represented all that is good and beautiful in a human being, the opposite of what his murderers represent,” said Yona Goodman, a member of the settlement.
“Rabbi Shapira used to say that we must use our time for study,” they said on the settlement. Therefore, he used to leave Peduel early in the morning for Bnei Brak, to get in a Bible lesson in the yeshiva there, and get back by morning and give his usual lecture in academy in Peduel.
The head of the Settlers Council, Benzi Lieberman, who lives in Peduel, said that Rabbi Shapira was “an admired figure who aspired to excellence and loved the country.” Lieberman said that the murder would only strengthen the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria and that Peduel and Alei Zahav, between which two settlements runs the road on which Rabbi Shapira was killed, would build two new neighborhoods next month.
Rabbi Shapira was buried last night. “Daddy, my beloved father, I love you,” eulogized his daughter Ortal, 15. “I see all the many people who came here, people Daddy taught all the time. My father is the Messiah; I want you to know that.”
Thousands of people accompanied Rabbi Shapira on his final journey, among them hundreds of soldiers and army officers, graduates of the pre-army academy he headed. At first, the people congregated at the academy building. Dov Shapira, head of the religious council, said: “You went up to heaven in a storm. You were murdered before studying Torah and after immersing in the mikve [ritual bath].” Meir Yehiel, his father, said: “My dear and holy son: the bullets of contemptible terrorists hit you. Not every day does the Heavenly Yeshiva merit to receive a special person like you.”
After the many eulogies, the funeral cortege set out in a long convoy to the Segula cemetery in Petah Tikva. Rivka, his wife, said over the open grave: “I don’t know whether to call you my beloved, my rabbi or my father. Today we return that with which we were entrusted. God gave, and God took away. Elimelech, I love you.”
This article ran in Maariv on July 26th, 2002