Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Rav Shai Ohayon, aged 39 and the father of four, was murdered yesterday afternoon in Petah Tikva. “He loved everyone and everyone loved him,” his father-in-law said in reaction to the tragedy. His neighbor Evyatar Cohen eulogized him in these words: “He was a humble person, quiet and pleasant to everyone. I only now learned that a brilliant Torah scholar was living among us. I was just told that he had recently passed the difficult qualifying exams taken in order to become chief rabbi of a city. It’s a heavy loss not just for his neighborhood, but for the entire nation of Israel.”
I heard an interview with his close friend, Yosef David Mugrabi, who was his hevruta (study partner) for 11 years. Mugrabi mentioned the last conversation they had as Shai was getting on a bus: “Shai said that he was praying that people would understand Uman is not just about parties and dancing.” (A multitude of Israelis and Jews from around the world gather each year in Uman, in the Ukraine, observing Rosh Hashana at the graveside of Rebbe Nachman of Breslav.)
It seems to me that this prayer of Rav Ohayon was deeply meaningful. Public relations surrounding the annual pilgrimmage to Uman are terrible. It’s true that you have fringe elements among the visitors, but we are talking about tens of thousands of participants who arrive for a communal prayer that is extremely important to them. It is certainly understandable why it is necessary to cancel flights to Uman this year. The question is more about the attitude and the atmosphere that surround the subject of Uman.
Banquet hall proprietors have received much sympathetic media coverage over cancellation of events in their venues. When theatre performances and concerts are canceled there is an embrace of those involved and commiseration with them. Canceled stand-up appearances evoke sympathy and empathy, as do canceled summer vacation plans. Parties, clubs, bars, restaurants, trips to the Far East taken by soldiers completing army duty — we have plenty of understanding for the disappointment that comes with closings and cancelations as dreams are shattered. Yet there are people for whom Uman is the ultimate dream. They also deserve our empathy, and should not be mocked or denigrated.
I never met Rav Shai Ohayon but the last sentence he spoke to his friend before he was murdered left me a lot to think about.