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The first victim and the last

מצבת הרב צורף
מצבת הרב צורף ז"ל. תמונה: תמר הירדני, ויקיפדיה

Translated by Yehoshua Siskin

24,069. On the eve of Memorial Day, this is the number of those who have been killed in Israel's wars and terrorist attacks. But where did this tally begin? Who was the first victim?

On the commemorative plaque at Har Herzl is written, that #1 is Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman Zoref. He was murdered in 5611 (1851), 171 years ago. He is considered the first victim of a hostile enemy attack in the present era of our Return to Zion.

Rabbi Zoref was born in Lithuania. He came on aliyah with his wife and three children together with more than 500 students of the Vilna Gaon who immigrated to Israel between 5568-5570 (1808-1810) in order to settle and develop Eretz Yisrael . Rabbi Zoref was a Torah scholar and a public figure who made his living as a silversmith, from which his family name (silversmith is “zoref” in Hebrew) was derived. He quickly became a highly visible leader and devoted his life to building Jerusalem, materially and spiritually, and to bringing more and more immigrants to the Land of Israel.

Rabbi Zoref's success angered some of the city’s Arabs, and they tried to assassinate him. On the rabbi’s way to morning prayers at the Synagogue which he had rebuilt, several Arabs attacked him, stabbing him with a sword. On his deathbed, he recited the Shema, and made his children swear that they would never leave the Land of Israel. His grave on the Mount of Olives was vandalized and recently restored by his family.

And just to keep this in proper historical perspective: Rabbi Zoref was murdered nine years (!) before Thedore Herzl was born. In other words, our story about the modern settlement of the Land of Israel - and our attachment to it - is older and more profound than it might seem.

Words cannot possibly encompass the debt of gratitude we owe to all 24,069 victims. Rabbi Zoref from Jerusalem was the first and Vyacheslav (Daniel) Golev, the security guard from Ariel, was the last (if only he will truly be the last).

In their memory.


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