For older Queens residents, the Fuld family is a special one, deeply imbued with values of Yiddishkeit and Zionism that brought Rabbi Yonah and Mary Fuld from the comfort of Hillcrest and his Assistant Principal position at SAR High School for the dream come true of aliyah. His five sons shared in this dream, one by one making aliyah and contributing towards Israel in their own ways.
Ari Fuld dreamed of wearing the IDF uniform since childhood, and after his tours of duty ended, he remained close to the Israeli military through numerous chesed projects. He also used his military training for self-defense courses that he taught to youths in the Gush Etzion community where he lived. This past Sunday, after being stabbed in the back, he chased after his Arab attacker and shot him before collapsing in a pool of his own blood. “He lived as a hero and he died as a hero. My big bro is gone,” tweeted Hillel Fuld.
Fuld was fatally stabbed at the shopping center at Gush Etzion Junction by 17-year-old Khalil Jabarin, from the village of Yatta. Fuld gave chase and shot his attacker. He was rushed to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem where he was pronounced dead. At his funeral a few hours after his death, mourners spoke of his final act of defense. “Who else can deal with a terrorist, take out a gun, jump over a fence and shoot the terrorist so that he does not harm others? Ari, I’m so sorry that I did not tell you about your greatness,” said his brother Moshe. “You are a true giant.”
Fuld’s love of Israel came from his parents and his appreciation for Jewish self-defense from his Hungarian-born grandmother Esther Varga, who shared with him her experience of surviving five concentration camps. In 1991, the 17-year-old Fuld made aliyah, initially learning at Yeshivat HaKotel. “I climbed mountains I was attached to, and when we visited holy places I felt so connected, and at Har Herzl, the national cemetery, it stuck me like a knife. I needed to be here and I knew this would be my life,” Fuld said in an interview with Texas Jewish Post ahead of his February 2017 lecture in Dallas.
Fuld knew the risks early on. Two years after his arrival, he mourned for his platoon comrade Jason Yehoshua Friedberg, an oleh from Montreal who was kidnapped and murdered. “The search for Yehoshua went on for almost a week, and then in the middle of the day, we heard our medic scream that he had found him,” Fuld wrote in 2017 on his Lion of Israel blog. “Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Jerusalem as we laid our Yehoshua to rest.”
The murder of Friedberg further emboldened Fuld. “For me, serving in the Israel Defense Forces is another puzzle piece in a Jewish person’s life,” he said in a 2007 interview with the outreach organization Aish HaTorah. “I literally smile when I get my draft in the mail.”
That year, he served under difficult conditions in the Second Lebanon War, where he hiked 28 kilometers to the Litani River. Deep in Hezbollah territory, as missiles rained on his unit, Fuld was determined to prevent another kidnapping. He grabbed four of his comrades and dragged them to safety. A piece of an Iranian-made missile pierced his vest but unexplainably did not injure Fuld. “I knew that I had been hit by a piece of shrapnel. I also knew that if shrapnel had entered my bloodstream, I would die in a few minutes. My legs buckled,” said Fuld. “There was no reason for that piece of shrapnel to stop.” Upon returning to Israel, Fuld made a seudat hodaah and dedicated more of his time towards spiritual pursuits and hasbarah.
As his brother Hillel is the go-to name in covering the Israeli tech scene, Ari became visible on social media, in print, and on news shows as an ardent defender of Israel. He joined the Standing Together 24/7 organizations as a fundraiser speaker, providing the troops with donated supplies that include refreshments, microwave ovens, clothing, and phone chargers. When he wasn’t giving passionate speeches defending Israel, he delivered divrei Torah and shared inspiring scenes of the country. His last tweet was last Thursday, September 13, showing a crowded S’lichos service at the Kosel.
His media appearances led to unlikely friendships. Although he was a fierce opponent of former Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer on camera and social media, in person the two developed a friendship. “I’m in total shock, sad and tragic, even on a personal level,” wrote Oppenheimer. “Ari and I met on the TV show Israeli Frenemies, where we served together… A true researcher, he believes in his way. I’m so sad about him and his family. May his memory be blessed.” Oppenheimer shared a short video of Fuld smiling as he fixed his necktie ahead of one of their debates.
“For me, serving in the Israel Defense Forces is another puzzle piece in a Jewish person’s life. I literally smile when I get my draft in the mail.”
Another frequent debating opponent of Fuld, longtime Meretz and B’Tselem director Uri Zaki, also shared his condolences. “Stunned and hurt by the abominable murder of my friend Ari Fuld in Gush Etzion,” Zaki wrote on his Facebook page. “There was an ideological chasm between us, but after every program together with the editor of the program, Arik Prince, we were careful to maintain friendships and keep the debates on screen to raise a glass and talk about life. Ari was a happy man, a family man, and devoted to advancing his values.”
Former Knesset Member Rabbi Dov Lipman noted the heartfelt tributes coming from the political left in his own tribute to Fuld. “Sure, we debated at times – and sometimes disagreed strongly. But want to know Ari? Watch these 90 seconds – filmed a month ago. Who else goes around cooling off IDF soldiers? Giving them pizza? Defending Israel wherever and whenever necessary? I am in shock and write these words through my tears. I miss you already, my holy brother.”
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeted his condolences. “America grieves as one of its citizens was brutally murdered by a Palestinian terrorist. Ari Fuld was a passionate defender of Israel & an American patriot. He represented the best of both countries & will be deeply missed.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the Fuld family before the funeral. “I’ve met the parents and wonderful brothers of this hero of Israel, Ari Fuld,” Netanyahu wrote in a tweet. “I embraced them in the name of the entire nation in this time of terrible grief. We are alive thanks to heroes like Ari. We will remember him forever.”
At his funeral, his father and brothers each spoke, along with his wife Miriam, who was born within a day of Fuld. Together, they shared 24 years of marriage and four children. “You were a good man. I’m not sure how to go on without you. You were always running towards danger instead of away from it, and you never backed down from a fight, because you knew you were in the right,” Miriam Fuld said. “You fought for what you believed in. You’ve left behind a legacy for the entire world to savor, and videos and stories that we will be telling for many years to come.”
A memorial fund to support Ari Fuld’s family has generated more than $200,000 within its first 12 hours. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/ari-fuld.
By Sergey Kadinsky