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Death of Ezra Schwartz serves as wake up call to constant flow of despairing news reports


One less student will have the privilege of walking through the doors of the beautiful new Rutgers Business School next fall.

Ezra Schwartz was brutally murdered by a Palestinian terrorist on Thursday afternoon. He and his friends were handing out food to Israeli Defense Force soldiers in the Gush Etzion area of Israel. They were also visiting the memorial garden of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach, the three Israeli boys kidnapped and killed last summer.

A boy whose 18th birthday had just passed, two acts of kindness on a Thursday morning, and in return, he was brutally murdered.  It's unthinkable.

Innocent blood has spilled on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which can’t be discussed without mention of the recent attacks in Beirut, Paris, Mali, Nigeria and New Orleans. I can’t help but wonder what my role is in all of this: a college student, a Jewish American, a journalist.

In pondering my role in the seemingly ceaseless terrorism around the globe, I worried I was becoming desensitized to the unthinkable. I would fall asleep on the couch to CNN in the background, listening to the faint voice of an anchor announcing how many were killed in the most recent shooting. And I wasn’t jolted awake, startled by the news. I drifted to sleep to the lullaby of tragedy, as I think so many of us have done.

Ezra’s murder was the wake-up call I needed. With mutual friends and a Jewish upbringing much like my own, I found myself picturing his death as if he were my future classmate, my friend, my brother.

My 14-year-old brother returned from spending 10 days in Israel this Wednesday. I could have been the big sister writing about my favorite memories of him in preparation for his funeral.

Writing those words, the blood drains from my face.

I spent Sunday afternoon glued to my laptop, watching as Ezra’s funeral was live-streamed online from his hometown of Sharon, Massachusetts. I asked my mom if she would watch with me. She said it would be too painful.

Part of the reason my mom couldn’t bear to watch was because I have a plane ticket booked to Israel on Dec. 15. Like Ezra, I too have a passion for Judaism, and see the value of studying there, immersed in textual learning, philosophical conversation and good deeds.

Ezra was at Yeshivat Ashreinu, where I can only imagine he spent his days absorbed in the depths of Torah, goofing off with friends and traveling the beautiful land he probably felt was his second home.

Since his death, photos and videos of Ezra’s happiest moments have begun to surface. One shows him reciting lines verbatim from "Harry Potter." Another shows him leading a group of young boys in song and dance at Camp Yavneh, where he won an award for being one of the "most spirited and inspiring" staff members.

Ezra would have graced the Rutgers community with that award-winning spirit. Like so many other Rutgers freshmen before him, he probably would have wondered why so many LX buses roll by before the much-needed F bus. He would have had the infamous nerve-wracking class registration experience, when WebReg goes down a minute before 10 p.m. He would have wondered whether to add a minor, what summer internships to apply for and if he wanted to test his physical limitations at Rutgers University Dance Marathon.

Ezra probably would have grown into a campus leader, inspiring the next generation of Jewish young adults and advocates for Israel.

Unfortunately, Ezra’s life ended at 18 years young, rendering him unable to experience any of those things, unable to fall in love, have children of his own one day and pass on his love of baseball, Judaism and life.

I’ve come to one conclusion so far, when it comes to my role in this.

In Judaism, when someone passes, we say “zichrono livracha,” or, “May his memory be a blessing.”

By spending my Sunday afternoon scrolling through Ezra Schwartz’s Facebook page, reading every last word of the many posts from friends and family, by spending almost three hours in tears as I watched his funeral, by making everyone I come into contact with listen to his story, I am creating a blessing where there is devastating sadness.

We must not allow ourselves to become desensitized. This is something that, as individuals, we are in complete control of. We must not accept our position as college students as being synonymous with no power for political persuasion.

Educate yourself on Ezra, Anita Datar, Geoffrey Dieudonne, Zhou Tianxiang, Wang Xuanshang, Chang Xuehui, Lucie Dietrich, Julien Galisson and Haidar Moustafa. Imagine where they came from. Imagine the reality that their families are living as you read this.

We are only limited by how much we know. For the sake of the future of the world, start learning.

Sabrina Szteinbaum is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with a minor in digital communication, information and media. She is a former Associate News Editor of The Daily Targum. 

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