|Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith, mayor of Itamar, the west bank settlement where five members of the Fogel family were murdered March 11, shows students a slide show about life in the town. Photos by Jerry Szubin|
Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith was in synagogue last month when he saw, he said on Tuesday, “three times, a white light” surrounding Udi Fogel, who was killed, along with four family members, the next day.
“Martyrs of Israel, those who give their lives for Israel, have the highest place in heaven,” Goldsmith said.
The mayor of Itamar, where the Fogels were murdered, shared this and other details about the west bank settlement with the eighth-grade class at The Moriah School in Englewood. He also spoke at several other area schools, including Torah Academy of Bergen County and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva for Girls, both in Teaneck.
A student asked, “Are you scared to live in Itamar?” Goldsmith answered, “People are brave and strong, but they are cautious. They carry guns and lock their doors. The important thing is to go on living and be happy.”
Goldsmith opened his presentation with a video that provided a snapshot of family life in Itamar. It featured residents talking about their work, growing crops like cucumbers, and also showed a recent event for disabled children. One resident said, “This cucumber grows from the very same soil our ancestors grew [crops] on.”
Afterward, Goldsmith told the children, “We are here to show you Eretz Yisroel is alive. You’ve seen stories of tragedy … but when you open a siddur on Shabbat [you will see] HaShem says, ‘I will stop the desecration, take my people and bring them back to our land…, and make the desert bloom.'”
Leah Goldsmith, his wife, spoke to the children about making aliyah. Though she believes it is God’s will that Jewish people are to be “collected back,” she also believes that it requires effort on the part of Jews. “No bird with wings will come to get you,” she said.
She told the eighth-graders that she and her husband first met as seventh-graders growing up in Flatbush. Together, she said, they have built their life in Israel.
“Eretz Yisroel is a real place,” she said. “When we got there it was rocks and empty. Today it is green, and the land is giving its blessing.” She added, “Each of you has an important role, and we welcome you all to come and visit.”
The initial presentation was followed by a slide show. It showed pictures of the Fogel home, which terrorists broke into on March 11, and also images of the family members who were killed: 3-month-old Hadas, 4-year-old Elad, 11-year old Yoav, and their parents, Udi and Ruth.
Goldsmith said that the murderers broke through the electrical fence that surrounds Itamar. Although the fence is monitored by video camera, the attackers chose a blind spot in the camera’s vision, he said, concluding that they were planning the operation and studying the community, possibly “for months.”
The fence is also wired to detect motion. When it senses something, the town’s security force “sends a Jeep,” Goldsmith said. In this instance, the town’s security force did detect motion and security guards did arrive. But they did not see anyone and assumed the disturbance was due to wild animals that live in the area.
Goldsmith stressed the attackers’ stealth and calculation.
“The terrorists locked the door on the inside and began to massacre the family,” he said. He described the widely reported details of the assaults. Afterward, Goldsmith said, “they ran out a window. They didn’t notice the [other] children [who were] sleeping, or they would have killed them, too.”
Goldsmith explained that he is on the “response team,” a security force in Itamar. Members have special radios they use to alert one another to any disturbance.
“I took my rifle and vest and told my wife Leah to lock the door,” he said. “I walk into the house and I don’t want to look,” he said with a sigh.
He did not share graphic details.
After seeing the devastation, he said, “we ran from house to house to make sure everyone is OK.” Since then, he added, “it’s been one long day … even here in America now.”
He stressed his belief that Itamar is on the “front lines” of fighting to protect the Jewish state.
“People say ‘the settlers,'” he said, seeming to imply that that is used as a derisive term. “But we are here for all of you. Because Israel is there for all Jews around the world.”
He also said that Itamar has sustained a disproportionate number of casualties in attacks on Israelis.
“In the last decade, 22 people of Itamar were murdered for the land of Israel,” he said.
One child asked, “Why did [the killers] go to one house and then just leave and not go on to other houses?”
Goldsmith speculated, “They wanted to do this savagely and quickly. If they had made noise, they would not have gotten away.”
Several boys asked questions about the identities of the perpetrators and whether and how they will be caught.
Goldsmith responded, “God willing, Israel has a very strong army and we’ll catch them.”
This reporter asked if this view of the settlers articulated by Goldsmith – as being on the front lines and protecting other Israelis and Jews worldwide – is part of the belief system that enables Itamar’s residents to live in such a dangerous place.
Goldsmith replied, “No doubt in the world now, there is a struggle between good and evil. The same forces that destroyed the Twin Towers are threatening democracy throughout the world. Unfortunately, this evil is against people who want to live in peace. The people of Itamar represent the Jewish people around the world. We have to drive in bulletproof buses…. We are the ones being targeted on the front lines.”
Leah Goldsmith added, “The media depict where we live as some faraway Oz…. Yes, we are on the front lines, but if you look at a map of Israel, we are actually in the center.”
She later told this reporter, “I am proud to be a settler and to use the term,” adding that in her view, the halutzim – pioneers who created small Jewish communities throughout Israel in the years before 1948 – were in a sense “settlers.”
In a one-on-one interview, Moshe Goldsmith told this reporter, “The deed to the land of Israel is the Bible. When push comes to shove, if we are true believers we have to accept the word of the Creator.”
Asked if there is any truth to the claim that some settlers have antagonized Palestinians, Goldsmith replied, “What happens is [that critics of Israel] take sporadic incidents. The fact that they can name them shows how few they are. Arab terrorists who attack Jews are numerous. You can’t compare the numbers.”
He said that when people feel they are under siege, they may act wrongly. But, he stressed, “even people [in the settler community] who become enraged, they don’t murder.”
He added, “We have no problem with people who want to live in peace. We have a problem with people who sanctify death.”
He said that in his view, in the big picture, “We are the ones being abused. We have given blood for peace and Iran, Hezbollah, and [other extremists in the Arab world] continue [to threaten]…. You have to be blind not to see the truth.”
After the event, several students shared their thoughts about the attack on the Fogel family.
“The first time I heard I was in class learning Torah, when the rabbi showed us a video of CNN,” said Jeremy David, 14. “I was shocked. How could I not know this? Who could kill a 3-month-old baby? I felt a mix of shock, fear, and guilt for not knowing.”
“About the Fogel family, it was sad and uncalled for what happened,” said Jason Goldberg, 14.
“It was unfair; they were innocent people,” said Dan Poleyeff, 14.
“Those terrorists are cowards because they went after kids,” added Benny Weisbrot, 13.