As per the genre of memoir, much of the book that I am writing focuses thematically on memory, the function of memory, and its significance in the world. The book starts by begging the question: How do we keep the dead alive for us? Thus, the topic of memory is constantly in my thoughts.
Now, I invoke memory and think back to March of 1994. I was four and a half years old. I lived a little over 1,000 miles from New York City. I was probably playing with my sister in our yard–hide and seek in the garden, climbing trees, chasing our German Shepherd while my sister attempted to collect lizards that zigzagged back and forth across the sidewalk–when Ari Halberstam, a sixteen-year-old Chassidish boy, was shot and killed as he crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. A van full of Yeshiva boys, returning from visiting their Rebbe in the hospital, was tracked and targeted by a Muslim terrorist, Lebanese national who was here on a student visa.
I wonder what exactly I was doing at that moment? Were we playing? Perhaps, we were eating a meal. Maybe I had been taking a nap. All I know is that I didn’t find out about Ari until many years later. A four and a half year old can’t comprehend such injustice and tragedy. Even if I heard about it, I never would have completely understood all of the factors involved: anti-Semitism, terrorism, retaliation, thousands-of-years worth of conflict, etc.
I may have heard about Ari Halberstam as I got older, but I didn’t know the details until recently. I read an article written by his mother, in commemoration of the 18th year anniversary of his murder, as I was sitting at work on my lunch break. I tried to hold back the tears as best as I could, hoping that nobody would notice that I started to cry, apparently out of nowhere.
I attended the trial of my son’s murderer every day. Listening to the testimony, I would see an image in my mind of a faucet and the blood of my son flowing. He was murdered as a living, breathing human being, because someone hated who he was, what he stood for and who he represented. He was a Jew. He was an American. I still cannot understand that. If you would have told Ari that someone murdered him because he was a Jew, he would have never believed you. Ari could never fathom hatred so deep, so vengeful, to cause anyone to be murdered.
His mother’s words spoke to me because of their genuine nature. However, most of all, it was her obsession with keeping his memory alive that spoke the most. She implores us to remember.
It is important to me that the world knows who my Ari was: a charming, handsome, smart, all-American 16-year-old; a 6-foot-tall star on the basketball court wearing a size 131/2 sneaker. He had a permanent smirk on his face, not because he was a snob, but simply because he had the coolest sense of humor. He could mimic anybody to the point where I would laugh until I cried. He had a sparkle and twinkle to his deep-sea blue eyes. He didn’t walk down the street, he glided. He didn’t climb the stairs; he jumped two at a time. He was smooth and graceful as a deer. Focused on where he was going, Ari would fly with ease down the street.
I still wonder about who Ari was in actuality. What was his essence? This is something that is hard to grasp from an article; this is something that is difficult to articulate outside the realm of personal interaction; this is something that the best of writers only breach the surface of, causing you to close a book wishing to have met the characters in person. Ari was not a character in a book; still I read this article wishing to have met him in person. I know that Ari went, in his free time, to visit his Rebbe who was in the hospital. I know that it was on his way back that he was pursued by the terrorist who murdered him. I know that he was a Yeshiva student, and that his chassidish garb gave away his Yiddishkeit. I know that he has a mother who misses him each day, when she wakes up in the morning and when she goes to bed at night. His mother struggles with the same question that I ask in my book, albeit on a much different and more personal level.
While there are public memorials to Ari that help to keep his memory alive, I take comfort when I see echoes of his essence in his wonderful sisters and brothers. They all loved their big brother deeply and were influenced by him in so many ways. And yes, I am blessed. I have three beautiful grandchildren named Ari (and several others). They can never replace my oldest son, but with G-d’s help, they will make their own unique contributions to this world in his name and his memory.
Ari stands for the Jewish people. He died because he represents the Jewish people, because he represents you and me, because he represents love of HaShem. He is, in essence, all of our siblings.
All I ask of you is that you remember Ari.
This I tell you, Devorah Haberstam, while I never met Ari in person, you have done a wonderful job of conveying him through your words–which is at times all that one has left. I write this blog as a way to bring tikkun olam, healing of the world through words, and you have allowed your son to become a vehicle for this through his memory that is carried on in your words and the words of those closest to him, as well as putting his memory into action with all of the wonderful causes you have supported and started in his name.
I ask that those who read this learn in the name of Ari Halberstam this Shabbat, as I plan to do this Shabbat ב”ה, in order to help fulfill Devorah’s wish of remembering Ari.
May his memory be for a blessing, now and always.
*PLEASE NOTE* The italicized sections are quoted directly from Devorah Halberstam’s article “Remembering Ari Halberstam, 18 Years Later.” Please read the full article here: http://www.algemeiner.com/2012/03/18/remembering-ari-halberstam-18-years-later/.