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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Shmuel Mermelstein HY"D (May God avenge his blood)

Almost every year, in late August or early September, I receive an email asking that I choose one victim of the 9/11 terror attacks and write a post about that victim. It's actually a beautiful idea. So beautiful that tonight, on Yom HaZikaron, the Memorial Day for IDF soldiers and terror victims who have died over the last 64+ years, I'd like to tell you about a terror victim I knew. In the next post, I will try to get some of you in on the act.

I met Shmuel Mermelstein only a couple of weeks before he was murdered. It was the week after Pesach, and I had traveled to Eilat and slept on the beach. In the morning, we made a minyan (prayer quorum) on the beach, and at the end, a boy with a perpetual smile on his face came up to me and asked if I knew someone who would be spending the day on the beach who wanted to stay away from the women on the beach. I was looking for just that.

We spent the day talking and sitting on the beach. From what I recall, he had just made the decision to return to his yeshiva for a second year, and I was leaving mine after my second year to return to law school in the US. At the end of the day, we parted ways. I was getting on a bus back to Jerusalem while he planned on hitchhiking back.

At the edge of the city, the bus stopped. Someone got on, worked his way back to the bus, and asked if I could lend him the fare to Jerusalem. It was Shmuel. He had stood at the entrance to the city for more than an hour looking for a ride, and decided that it wasn't worth standing out in the heat. No one had stopped. I lent him the fare, and we shmoozed all the way back to Jerusalem - about a six-hour ride back then.

My yeshiva started earlier than the others did, and the day after we started in strode Shmuel with the money he had borrowed from me in hand. I told him that he didn't have to make a special trip out to see me, but he insisted. Perhaps he had an inner sense of what lay ahead, and was closing out his financial dealings. We'll never know.

On Friday night, the 17th day of the Jewish month of Iyar, helicopters hovered over my yeshiva. While we didn't turn on radios on the Sabbath, those students who stood guard duty had two-way radios, and so we knew what had happened. There had been a terror attack in Beit Hadassah in Hebron. Six people were killed.

Let's go to the videotape.

On Saturday night, I fought my way onto a bus - the only one that came into our yeshiva - to get into Jerusalem and relieve the stress. Everyone was so tense you could cut the tension with a knife. No one knew yet who had been killed. The names were only released late Saturday night. I didn't get the names on the radio, although I thought I might have heard Shmuel's name. I slept over on Saturday night in Jerusalem figuring that I would go to whatever funerals there were on Sunday.

On Sunday, I went to the Kotel (Western Wall) for sunrise services. I ran into someone who had studied in our yeshiva earlier in the year and had transferred to another yeshiva just outside Hebron. He knew all the names. Except for one. He remembered the first name, but not the last. Mermelstein, I suggested. Yes, yes. Are you sure? Positive. I turned pale and started to shake. I boarded a bus, and went to tell the people with whom I had traveled to Eilat. It was only about 6:00 am but I had to share it with someone else who knew him. The boy at the Kotel did not know him. Shmuel had been murdered.

The funeral was put off until Monday so that his family could come from Canada. Shmuel might have been the least known of the victims at the time, because he was the only one who was not either an Israeli or someone who had made aliya already. But his funeral was the only one on Monday and it was mobbed. I remember his grandmother wailing hysterically, and his Rosh Yeshiva switching from Hebrew to Yiddish so his grandmother could understand. I still shake thinking about it.

I screen capped Shmuel's picture from the video, and I'm putting it on the left. Two years ago, Arutz Sheva did a retrospective 30 years after the attack. You can find it here.

One of the things that happened as a result of the Beit Hadassah terror attack was the formation of the Machteret - the so-called Jewish Underground. The first events that the Machteret was accused of perpetrating were actually actions meant to scare the Arabs so that nothing like Beit Hadassah would happen again.

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At 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. Not having known young Shmuel, I can at least remember his name. And I will.


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