By Inna Rogatchi—
Since I have heard Bilvavi for the first time in mid-2000s, the song took its place in my heart. I do rate it as the most beautiful Jewish melody to me. Bilvavi has a story. It is rooted in mid-XVI century Safed, encompasses to the early XXI century Tel-Aviv, Glasgow and London, and unfolds further on, to our day in Efrat, then to Finland, and anywhere else all over the Jewish world.
Bilvavi is a short poem, piyut written by famous Rabbi Yitzhok Hutner based on the line by Rabbi Elazar Azikri ( 1533-1600) who lived in Safed and was notable Kabbalist, the author of Yedid Nefesh. Rabbi Hutner (1906 – 1980) was eminent figure in Judaism in Israel and USA. He also was a central figure of the infamous hijack by the Palestinian terrorists of 40 Jewish men, many of them Rabbinic leaders, in the flights to New York from Frankfurt and Zurich in September 1970.
His poem is fine in both thinking and form. It really comes from heart echoing its name, Bilvavi, In My Heart:
In my heart a sanctuary I shall build, to the splendor of His honour, and in the sanctuary an altar I shall place, to the rays of His glory. And for an Eternal Flame I shall take me The fire of the Akei’dah. And for a sacrifice I shall offer Him my soul, My one and only soul.
It took many years before it came to the modern Jewish world in the form of most beautiful song. The melody was created by Stephen Levey, supremely talented contemporary Jewish composer and choir conductor, the author of the universal hit of our time Oseh Shalom, and a long-time musical conductor and director of the famed Shabbaton Choir of The Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London , led by Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld, a dear friend.
Stephen created the music which once you have heard it jumps into your heart and stays there for good. He did it being moved and affected by the murder of Yoni Jesner who lost his life in a terrorist attack on a bus in Tel-Aviv in 2002. It was the infamous attack that had shocked the world when the terrorist blew himself in a crowded bus stop the next the Great Synagogue in Tel-Aviv at the time of the High Holidays.
Not surprisingly, Stephen Levey’s Bilvavi was performed for the first time at the Tel HaShomer hospital in Tel Aviv where just 19-years old Yoni died ( his parents had to write the consent document allowing the doctors to switch life-supporting machine off, after the injures to his head proved to be fatal). It was performed by the Shabbaton Choir as a part of their Israel Solidarity Tour in 2004.
Back to 2004: The Meaning of Connecting
Back in 2004, in parallel with our friends from London, we also conducted our The Rogatchi Foundation Art Solidarity Campaign in Israel bringing a large 2-months art Dream, Memory, Love exhibition of 65 works of my husband Michael Rogatchi to Jerusalem along with sizeable delegations from Finland and the European Union. We brought with us also the Addresses of Solidarity signed by hundreds of citizens of Finland and by tens of Members of European Parliament in public and united support of Israel and its people amidst very daring international situation at the time. It was the peak of nasty Second Intifada.
I would never forget the eyes of our Israeli friends throughout the events of our campaign, irrelevantly of the people’s positions. The eyes full of mixture of surprise, warmth and gratitude. The deep one which does not require words, to the contrary. ‘A hand-shake would be enough’ – as the Jewish vet doctor in the Le Gitane movie classic says to the main character played by Alain Delon in the best – and most meaningful – scene of the film.
Many hundreds of people who visited the exhibition were staying there for a long time, nobody rushed. People were genuinely interested into the art of my husband that speaks on the Jewish world in many of its dimensions, from a modern-day perception of the Biblical personages and their meaning for us, through Shoah and what had it left in our common Jewish heart, to the dances occurring in every Jewish family in its own way, and in our common family in the one and the same way.
From our many talks with Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld and his friends and colleagues from the Shabbaton Choir we know that they have met the same expression of the eyes of Israeli people just a few months before us, on their mission in 2004 in which Bilvavi played a central role. In general, Shabbaton Choir and its people are doing incredible solidarity work with their superb musical spiritual art and by their strong Jewish character for many years. We have the same inclinations with our friends: we both are supporting to the best we can the victims of terror and the Holocaust survivors.
In the same year 2004 another dear friend of ours, Brigadier General James M. Hutchens, real American hero awarded with two Purples Hearts and many other blood-deserved decorations, was very busy, too, and on similar cause. Jim and his The JerUSAlem Connection Christian Zionist organisation, the one of the most powerful in Washington DC, and the one based on crystal honesty and brave-heart principles, were preparing to ship to the United States the wreck of the bus #19 that had been blown up at the Gaza Street in Jerusalem in January that year. It was the deed stunning in the simplicity of its idea and the efficiency of its fulfilment.
When Jim eventually brought the wreck of the bus in the front of the Hill at the time of the mattering discussion of the supporting Israel facing non-stop terrorist war against it, the US congressmen did not need to go far for convincing reasoning. The bus was later touring many American cities and — importantly — campuses until it had been installed as the permanent exhibit at the Camp Shoresh in Adamstown in Maryland.
It is amazing to see, especially from a distance of almost 15 years, on how the circle of friends, independently from each other, has put their sincere and serious efforts onto the same direction, at the same time, for the same purpose. Seemingly, it needed some time distance to appear as the tendency of our all’ lives, and especially as the meaningful connection between us all, and between the children of Israel and its land.
The Toll of Elul
Every year, approaching the time of our Jewish New Year, we are getting thoughtful, even if for some moments, and hopeful trying to check-on, backward, on our life during a year coming to its circle, and aspiring to safe, healthy, and successful new year arriving soon. And we are preparing our households for a month-celebration of the High Holidays, too. So as I was cooking for Rosh HaShana this year, I was listening to music, as I do always. During these pre-Rosh HaShana days, the inner imperative was made me to listen to the Shabbaton Choir records which we have in plenty. For some reason, I did stuck with three CDs, Bilvavi and two more in which Bilvavi was featured. I listened it time and again during all the days of our final preparations for Rosh HaShana, and especially I was listening to Bilvavi. For some reason, I was just gleaned to the song and that only, and did it for three days in the end of Elul: on Elul 26th, 27th and 29th.
These days are known in the Jewish theological calendar as the day of Hope, the day of Intend, and the day of Return, in correspondence. It also quite eventful days in both the Torah narrative and the history of Jewish people. On Elul 26th when I have started my Bilvavi marathon, according to the Torah tradition, the Gehinom had been created. It is also the day of the terrorist massacre of the Israeli olympic team in Munich in 1972. The next day is the date of the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993. The last day of my non-stop listening of Bilvavi is the date of the first organised attack of the Nazi storm troops in 1931; the date of the start of the liquidation of the 10 000 -strong Lida ghetto in Poland in 1942 and many other ghettos there as well.
I did not think about all those events while listening to beautiful Bilvavi music by Stephen Levey. I am analysing it afterwards, being compelled to think on the inter-connected chain of events which all reflected on the Jewish destiny in the most tangible way, back then and now too. But I was thinking on Yoni, as I knew the story of Bilvavi creation, and on Rabbi Hutner who also had came through an awful ordeal 32 years before Yoni – for the same reason, and by the same party of evil.
I was wondering on how the tragic death of young innocent Jewish boy could have produced the impulse for Stephen Levey to create such ultimately beautiful music. I was also thinking in more general terms, on how our Jewish souls can process an ultimate tragedy into ultimate and universal beauty.
Death on Holiday
There is something very special and peculiar about Yoni’s destiny. He was just 19 years old, a very good Jewish boy from a distinguished Jewish family in Glasgow. Yoni was full of aspirations and was about to study medicine. He was about to start his university studies just after his return from Israel where he spent his gap year, to the surprise of some of his friends. It was quite normal to visit Israel , for a longer time, as well, as for a few weeks; but it was not that usual to spend an entire year there. Why did he go? He studied in Yeshiva there. In which one? At the one at Gush Etzion. He also had a family in Tel-Aviv and he visited them on the day he was mortally wounded in the bus terror attack in front of the Great Synagogue in Tel-Aviv. It was on Tishrei 13, September 19th, 2002, just one day before erev ( eve of ) Sukkot. On that very day , as I have learned, Ron Arad had been captured in Lebanon in 1986 ( and we know people who were his class-mates). Staying in our all’ memory animalistic lynching of two Israeli soldiers in 2000 in Ramallah also had happened on that day, the event which marked the beginning of the Second Intifada which went on for four years and claimed the lives of over one thousand Israeli and Jewish people in that vile barrage of terrorist attacks, over one hundred of them, including the life of Yoni Jesner.
Being uplifted on the erev ( eve of) Rosh HaShana this year, the little I knew that in a week time sharp, the next Sunday, on Tishrei 7th, September 16th this year, 2018, two days before Yom Kippur, I, as many other people both in Israel, USA and around the world, would become completely dumbfounded on hearing the thing impossible: that Ari Fuld, a friend, the great guy, devoted son of Israel, the real lion of Judah, as many who knew him, knew well, was murdered in vicious terrorist attack in Gush Etzion. That was impossible. Not Ari. As his friends were repeating in total disbelief, ‘Ari was indestructible. He was the defender of his country and his people, of us all’. As I wrote at the time, the most impossible, wrong word in all our writings is ‘was’. Tishrei 7, the day of Ari’s murder, in the Jewish Biblical tradition is both the day of birth and yahrzeit of Zebulun, the tenth son of Jacob, the one who ‘shall dwell towards the shore’.
The Spirit of the Family
Ari’s murder came as a complete shock and explosion in the midst of our High Holidays, the defining time of Jewish annual circle. So many people both in Israel, the USA and world-wide felt completely down, were paralysed with sorrow and disbelief. In my articles, I summarised my and my husband’s haunting feeling in the phrase: ‘ This Yom Kippur is going to be really very painful one’. It really was.
And who did reanimate us all, Ari’s friends, and the people who were deeply affected by this senseless, vile murder? His family. That big, warm, deep, committed, brave and courageous, that exemplary family of Rabbi Yonah and Mary Fuld. His fantastic father, his stoic mother, his heroic wife Miriam, his very brave four children, his four brothers, so similar and so individual ones, many other members of that wonderful Fuld family.
We were gleaned to the screen following the Ari’s funeral and the service deep into the night of that difficult day. We saw and heard every word said by those courageous, intelligent, warm and very special people who were speaking at that disastrous moment in their lives. We cried non-stop together with them and so many other people gathered at the Gush Etzion. We saw the unbelievable queues of the people coming to console the family during the shivah. We saw the tributes of all kinds, and participated and supported the incredibly efficient fund accumulation for the family. As people who knew Ari know, he never asked for anything for himself, does not matter how much there might be a need. But he always cared for the others – for a woman from Nigeria reaching to him for help, for Christian friends of Israel from around the globe towards whom he always was attentive, for all those boys whom he tough karate and martial arts, for all those girls whom he tough the Torah, as his father did before; but most and foremost of all, for the Israeli soldiers and the IDF veterans, for the victims of terror, and for the Holocaust survivors. I remember well on how Ari has told me how much he was affected by the visiting the places where his grandmother, the Holocaust survivor, and her family lived before the WWII. It was another Ari from whom we knew, he was deeply shaken and absolutely connected to the places of where our common Jewish tragedy unfold during the Shoah. I felt that he just could not come to terms with it. And who can?.. Why so very often do we realise that our friend, a person whom we used to communicate casually and so very often, is made from another kind of ‘material’ when we cannot call him and hear his voice any longer?..
The Fuld family leads us in their personal and our common grief, out of the grief: a week after the Ari’s murder, after visiting his fresh grave, they, all together, went to the place of his murder, honouring his memory and standing with straight backs at the horrible for them place affirming his legacy. They, all together, went to the Kotel ( Western Wall) with the new Sefer Torah scroll donated in Ari’s memory to his synagogue in Efrat by wise-in-heart Ira Rennert family. In early October 2018, after the end of the High Holidays, the Fulds, all together, will be going on a commemorative walk for Ari, following his steps over his most beloved places in Israel, in a public commemorative event to which they have invited all the students who are staying and studying in Israel. Their stand is admirable and their behaviour is exemplary. It explains the Ari’s phenomenon of his devotion to Israel. It also infuses all of us with strength and humanism.
Tribes. The Sons of Israel
For three years, I have been working on a special art project depicting The Tribes in the way of metaphorical art and settled in landscape of the Eretz Israel. After making all the shooting in Israel, I have continuing my long enough research through various Biblical sources and worked on the concept of the series. In the project, The Tribes are conveyed in the symbolic way corresponding to the vision of the each Tribe by their father Jacob. The allusive ‘portraits’ of the Tribes are supplemented by my fine art photography works of the landscapes of the Land of Israel which are setting the symbolic ‘portraits’ of the Tribes into the atmosphere and spirit of the live landscape of the Eretz Israel. Tribes in the full name of the project are called The Sons of Israel. As Ari was and is. Ans Yoni was and is.
Being prompted by the strong and courageous overcoming of death and destruction and affirmation of life and spirit shown by the Ari’s family in aftermath of his death, and thinking on sons of Israel, I completed my project of three years in no time. I was totally amazed on the speed of its completion. The work that normally would need a month was done in a week; the other stage which normally would take from a week to ten days, and I am an avid worker, took just a couple of days, amazingly. I told to my husband that I have had a special feeling that somebody – Somebody – was carrying me on, that I was acting with a mighty help.
I came to help of my artist husband in my project, incorporating some fragment of his great paintings from the famed Forefathers series into my fine art collages for the Tribes, notably, his famous Lion of Judah created in 2008, the image known widely due to its multiplied publications. I also included in the project’s video presentation the Michael’s important painting of Jacob, his other Biblical works, and his recent art work which was the one of the prototypes for the special tapestry at the Begin Centre in Jerusalem.
Creating a special musical art video as the Tribes presentation, I had no question on what would be its music. Bilvavi, of course. I have asked Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld for the permission to use the record of the Shabbaton Choir splendid performance for our joint commemoration. It was a tricky moment, as all that was going on in the midst of High Holidays, and I knew that Rabbi leading such important congregation in London, the one which was previously led by the Lord Rabbi Sacks and where he still administrates the High Holidays, would be extremely busy. The response from our dear friend came within a couple of minutes. As it turned out, the Ari’s uncle is the one of the Lionel’s best friends. And as we knew, the Rosenfeld’s children are living in Efrat, too.
The Connection of Us All
Since the moment when the unique melody of Bilvavi has become the a special dimension of the video of our The Sons of Israel project, I am thinking on Ari and Yoni together. There are so many inter-connections between the all parts of these stories of spiritual overcoming the hatred and destruction that our enemies are throwing at us during all our history, and in the painful realities of our days, among the people we know and love.
The unique part of Yoni Jester’s death is hardly believable. It has made headlines world-wide, and had inspired the episodes in a few books, among them David Horowitz’s Still Life With Bombers: Israel in the Age of Terrorism ( 2007). Five years after the death of 19-year old Yoni Jesler, David visited a certain family in the Eastern Jerusalem. It was Palestinian family. In that family, the parents and grandparents were praising the Israeli doctors non-stop. The mother of the family have said to Horowitz: “ Even if I will be praising the Israeli doctors all the time till the end of my life, it would not be enough. They are unbelievable human beings”. What the Israeli doctors did to deserve such praise from a Palestinian family? They saved the life of their daughter. How did they do it? They transplanted a donor’s kidney to the 5-year old Yasmina who was in critical condition due to her kidney failure. Who was the donor? Yoni Jesler. His family of the great Jewish people gracefully agreed, in strict accordance with Halacha rule on the matter of donating organs for saving lives, to save the other life. In this case, it was the life of then 5-year old Yasmina abu Ramila who is 21 today. I wonder what she is doing in her life, and what kind of person is she. I hope that she lives in accordance with the view of her family on quality of Israeli doctors and humanity of the Yoni Jesler’s Jewish family.
Ari Fuld’s friends knew that every Friday, he was buying food for a needy Palestinian family. They also knew that Ari was not a millionaire, far from it. He did it at the super-market, next to the wall of which he was murdered being attacked from the back by the 17-years old Palestinian beast raised to be anti-human by the system which lives on hate, celebrates death and pays for crime. Ari was not naive, neither Jesner family was. Our heroes champions life. They live – and die – in the only natural for them way; the way in which humanity is our decency and our strength, does not matter what. This is the best part of our heritage. This is the yeast of our legacy. The legacy which the Sons of Israel and their families does maintain, without interruption, from the times of the Tribes.
The pulse of Rabbi Azikri that has become an impulse for Rabbi Hutner for his Bilvavi piyut revived by Stephen Levey 400 years later and 3535 km away from the place the central line of it had been conceived. It has become a plea of devotion sung by talented Sons of Israel, Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld and his Shabbaton Choir in memory of a good Jewish boy Yoni Jesner who in his death saved the life of a Palestinian girl. Being enormously grateful to our dear friends for such meaningful cooperation in our commemorative project, we have dedicated our special musical video on the Tribes project to the entire Fuld family and did it in memory of Ari Fuld, the Lion of Judah, devoted son of his people.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Inna Rogatchi is internationally acclaimed writer, scholar and film-maker, the author of widely prized film on Simon Wiesenthal The Lessons of Survival. Her professional trade-mark is inter-weave of history, culture and mentality. She is the author of the concept of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational projects conducted internationally by The Rogatchi Foundation of which Inna is the co-founder and President. She is the wife of the world renowned artist Michael Rogatchi. Inna’s family is related to the famous Rose-Mahler musical dynasty. Her professional interests are focused on Jewish heritage, Holocaust and post-Holocaust, arts and culture. She is twice laureate of the Italian Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music Award, the Patmos Solidarity Award, and the New York Jewish Children’s Museum Award for Outstanding Contribution into the Arts and Culture (together with her husband).