Here's a better appreciation, written by the son of a very close acquaintance. He is Rabbi ZevReichman who visited all eight Shiva Houses of the murdered Mercaz Harav students.
Our sages teach that the Almighty climbs down into his garden to pick His roses. God chooses the most special souls to join Him in the Heavens. After spending a day visiting the eight shiva homes I am overwhelmed by the awareness of how special these souls were. The eight who were murdered were pure, holy, studious, and inspiring. They are like the eight chanukah candles, each one shining bright and revealing great holiness. What follows is a small snapshot of each one.
1) Doron Trounouch,26, was an exceptional young man. I visited his family this morning in Ashdod. They were all depressed. His father cannot speak Hebrew, he is still only fluent in Amharic. The family came to Israel from Ethiopia during Operation Solomon. His siblings also struggled with their Hebrew. They explained that Doron's passion was learning Torah. He loved to learn. He was always attached to a book of Torah. He was a student in the Yeshiva for eight years. He was planning to take tests to receive smicha this summer. His father also has a great love for Torah, he reads stories from the Torah that were translated into Amharic. Doron and his father would talk as equals about the Torah. His father told me, "I am so proud to have been Doron's father." His older brother Avi told me that Doron was the religious authority in the family. Before Pesach he would call each of his nine siblings and insist that they join the family for Pesach. On Seder night Doron would run the Seder and make sure that each member of the family knew the story of how we left Egypt. He would teach them all of how we were slaves and how Hashem freed us. He told his family all about the stories of Yosef. Avi told me, "I would not have known anything about Yosef's dreams and his interpretations if not for Doron."
In addition to teaching Torah, Doron taught his family about Israel, Zionism, and Yerushalayim. He had a passionate love for Israel and Yerushalayim. He told his family that Israel had to be a large country with many towns. He planned to live in a small town once he married. He spread this enthusiasm to all he met. Doron was an exceptional boy in his neighborhood. When he would be home for Shabbos, he would sit in the local Beit Midrash, Study Hall, and learn for eight hours in a row. After his passing, one of the neighbors wrote an obituary in the local newspaper. He described the passionate learning Doron would display whenever he was home. In addition to his family Doron spread Torah learning, and love of Israel and Yerushalayim, to the children in his community. He would volunteer 20 hours a week in the absorption center in Mevasseret Tzion. There he would guide the recent Ethiopian immigrant children along the path of Torah, love of Jerusalem, and loyalty to the State of Israel. Tens of kids wrote his family letters when they heard of his passing. One young girl wrote, "Doron I love you. You taught me about Torah and Israel. Now I promise that I will pray every day and ask Hashem to send Mashiach so that you will return to life." She signed the letter with a large hand drawn red heart.
2) Roi Roth,18, only merited to spend a few months in the Yeshiva before he was taken from us. His parents sat shiva in their home in Elkana. When I was there a group of Roi's friends from Yeshivat Mercaz Harav came to visit. One of them, who was several years older than Roi spoke first. "Roi taught me how to pray." he said. Roi would regularly pray at length. "He would frequently shed many tears during his prayers of Shmonah Esrei. He rarely finished with the others. He was usually one of the last students to leave the Beit Midrash at the end of Shacharit and Mincha. Seeing a boy cry during prayer, when it was not the high holy days, was a lesson as to what prayer can and should be." He then spoke of Roi's positive outlook, "Roi would always smile. He was upbeat. He had kind things to say. And he was brilliant. Originally I thought he was only good at prayer, but then he started to come to the classes I would give on the Talmudic topic we would be studying. He was very insightful. He was also humble. Once in the development of the class, he realized where I wanted to go and he offered the idea on his own. I told him that it was a great thought and that was my thinking as well. We continued with the class. Soon another student, who apparently had not listened before, suggested Roi's thought. A third student said, 'that was Roi's concept,' to which Roi responded, 'who cares who said it. What matters is that the true explanation of the Sugya be revealed.'"
Roi would gladden everyone. He once saw a student looking downcast. He walked over to the boy and moved the young man's lips into the shape of a smile and said "Let me see your teeth!" The day he ascended on high, Roi spent his lunch time discussing a topic of Talmud. His roommate had told him of a particular cd he was looking for. In the basement of the Yeshiva, books, cd's, and tapes are for sale. Roi went to the basement, and he saw the cd there. He climbed to the third floor dormitory room to tell his friend that he had found where he could buy the music he wanted. He then went down to the library to learn some more. The terrorist came two minutes later and turned the room of books into a slaughterhouse. Roi was found on the floor his body riddled with bullets. In his hand he was clutching his kippa. Apparently it had fallen from his head, with his last strength he stretched out and held it, he did not have the strength to put it back on his head.
3)Yonatan Eldar, 16, grew up on the street where my parents own a home. He was one of eight siblings. His five older siblings were of another generation while he was the leader of the younger group of three kids. He really blossomed in the Mercaz Harav High School (Yeshiva Litzeirim). His love was learning Torah. He developed a passion for Daf hayomi. He was very attached to reviewing the daf every day. He insisted on learning many topics the Yeshiva was not covering. He had a passion for the study of Halacha. His older brother, Yair, 26, is living in Jerusalem and studying in Yeshivat Mercaz Harav. Yair asked Yonatan if he would like to study with him. Yonatan wanted to but he was so busy with his schedule of learning that his only time available was between 6:30 AM to 7:00 AM. HIs brother was usually not awake at that time. Yonatan would wake up his brother every morning to enable their joint chavruta. Yonatan had been waiting to receive a special printing of the Talmud Nedarim to continue his Daf Yomi studies. The book did not arrive in the mail on time. It came several weeks late. Yonatan was therefore sixteen pages behind. Over the last few weeks he would put in extra time in order to make up his shortfall.
On Wednesday the Yeshiva Litzeirim went on a tiyul. When they returned at night, Yonatan made his way to the Beit Midrash to learn. One of the Rabbis in the community came into the Beit Midrash to learn. The Beit Midrash was empty. The Rabbi was tired, he stood up and started to learn out loud in order to stay awake, Yonatan was sitting during this time and concentrating on his beloved Tractate Nedarim. He had to learn the day's daf and only one more page in order to catch up. He stayed in the Beit Midrash after the Rabbi left. He was the one to turn out the lights at 1:45 AM after he had caught up to the daf. On Thursday the Beit Midrash was shut in order to prepare it for a Rosh Chodesh Adar party. Yonatan went to the library to learn his beloved daf yomi. While he was learning he was shot. His blood stained his favorite book. On Friday Yonatan was buried in Shilo together with his Tractate nedarim.
4)Yonadav Chaim Hirschfeld, 19, was one of thirteen children. His grandfather learnt in YU together with our dear Dr. Samuel Danishefsky. Yonadav was known as the pride of his class. He had just graduated Yeshiva Letzeirim and was studying in Mercaz Harav. He knew all the Mishnayot of the Shas by heart. He would review the entire Shas of Mishnayot every month. He would review the entire Tanach regularly as well. He had a passion for life and learning. He would run to the Beit Midrash. He would climb the steps jumping several at a time to enter the house of learning. He was extremely insightful. His thoughts and analysis were extremely deep. He always had a smile on his face. He would play the flute to bring joy to others.
His classmates related that Yonadav had entered the library to learn because the beit midrash was being cleared for a party. Most of the boys used the time to get some rest in their dorm rooms. Yonadav wanted to catch a few more moments of learning. The terrorist shot him in the back. He had apparently run from him and he was hit in the back. Yonadav apparently noticed that there was a sefer, Shev Shimatata that had fallen to the floor Yondav reached down and picked it up before he was killed by the terrorist. The students pointed out that Yonadav had such a radiant face it would have been impossible to shoot him while seeing him. Even evil incarnate would melt in the presence of such joy and piety. His grandfather told me Yonadav would visit him regularly. In addition, Yonadav's great grandmother, Rebbetzin Shapiro, is still alive and has an apartment in Yerushalayim, Yonadav would visit her once a week, playing his flute and bringing her joy. "I cannot believe he will no longer enter our apartment and bring us joy." his grandfather told me as tears escaped his eyes.
5) Yochai Lifshitz, 18, was considered the pride of the 41st graduating class of Yeshiva Letzeirim. Even when he was very young he displayed a serious nature and a passion for learning. When his family moved to the Old City of Jerusalem they enrolled him in the first grade class. At the end of the school year the teacher informed the class that they would now be off for the two months of summer, Chofesh Hagadol. Yochai was incensed. "Why should we not have school for two whole months?" he complained to his parents. "We can have a break for a week or two and then we should return to class" he opined. His parents explained to him that the school year was established by the ministry of education and they could not change it. "Then send a letter to Misrad hachinuch," Yochai demanded. His parents told him, "If you feel so strongly about this, you write a letter to the ministry. If you write it we will mail it." Yochai wrote a letter to the ministry. It was written in a mixture of cursive and block letters and in it Yochai demanded more school time. His parents thought the story was over.
Two weeks later an official letter arrived addressed to Yochai Lifshitz. It told him that his proposal was being referred to a committee that would study the issue. On the bottom of the letter, the minister of education added in his own hand writing, "I am so glad to see that in our day once again children in Yerushalayim have a great urge for ever more amounts of time to learn Torah. Rav Lichtenstein shlit"a, said "this was indicative of the type of person he would become." His Rosh Yeshiva said that he could write a 300 page book about Yochai's dedication to learning. Yochai was extremely devoted to coming to Tefilla. He would arrive at every service at least fifteen minutes early in order to prepare himself. Now that he was taken, Rav Lifshitz, his father said "it was a privilege for me to have him in my family. He was so special. He is now mori vrabi, my teacher and master."
6) Neriya Cohen, 15, was the youngest victim. Neriya grew up in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem as one of ten children. Neriya loved to learn. He would always grab extra time for learning. He was always upbeat. He was extremely careful to honor his parents. He tried to keep every detail of Jewish law. "It was a true, zchut, merit, to have him in our family." Rav Cohen said. The night of the attack the family ran to the Yeshiva. They were told that someone thought he saw Neriya in the hospital. They ran from hospital to hospital for 4 and a half hours. Eventually they returned home and they received the bitter news.
7) Segev Avichayil, 16, was from Neve Daniel. Segev was very studious. He loved to learn. He had a great ability to comprehend and understand information. His father read to us from his son's notebook. In the class his son summarized it was taught that every nation has abilities just as each person has abilities. In exile one might use the abilities for good or for something not as good. In the Holy Land it is different. The abilities are either expressed for the good or they will be expressed in a negative and detrimental manner. When we davened mincha in the home, his father lead the prayers with a special emphasis on the hope that the Almighty will cause redemption and salvation to sprout anew.
8) Avraham David Moses, 16, is the closest blow to home. Avraham was a cousin of our friend Michael Ratzker. Avraham had a passion for learning. Perhaps this too started at a young age. His father, Naftali, showed us a picture of when Avraham was two; he had fallen asleep on his father's lap while his father sat at a table filled with Seforim in a Beit Midrash. Avraham always loved to learn. Once he entered high school he developed a real passion for learning. Nothing else would interest him. When his father decided to take the family on a trip, Avraham did not want to go. "I would rather sit in a Yeshiva and learn." he said. His father told him, "I am taking the family to Mitzpe Rimon, I plan to daven Shacharit in the Yeshiva there. You can stay and learn all day in the Yeshiva, while I and the rest of the family enjoy a family tiyul." Avraham David accepted his father's suggestion.
Over the last two years his father would notice Avraham whispering to himself. When he asked his son what was up, his son said, “I am reviewing Mishnyot by heart." Naftali believes that Avraham David knew half of the shas, the orders of kadoshim, moed, and taharot by heart, even though he was only sixteen! Avraham was very deliberate, he was always at peace. His teacher told us that he always felt Avraham would be a giant in Torah. Apparently God decided He needed this giant to learn with Him. The night of the attack, Avraham and Segev were learning together Tractate Megilla. The terrorist entered and began to shoot, someone heard Segev scream "Moses, GET UP!" Apparently, he was so patient and so studious he had been immersed in his studies at that terrible moment.
The Maharal writes that the number Eight is a number that represents the supernatural. It’s a number that ascends the physical and touches the spiritual realm. On the eighth day of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Hashem tells us “Kashe Alay Preydatchem”, “Your departure is difficult on Me.” Today we say to Hashem that while accepting His decree, the departure of these eight martyrs creates a void within us that can never be filled. Just as the eight Chanukah candles light up the dark winter nights, the legacies of these eight pure souls will light up the lives of each of us. The main message that the families asked me to convey is the need to accept real change as a result of what happened. Today we promise to be better than yesterday, today we promise to never forget them. Shiva may end, shiva is commemorated for seven days but the lessons of these eight, the smiles of these eight and the memories of these eight will live on forever. May the memories of these eight harugey malchut stay with us to truly increase our goodness, kindness, and learning.
With blessings and tears,