Some 200 family members, friends and Israel Defense Forces soldiers gathered on Thursday night in Kfar Etzion, west of Efrat in Gush Etzion, to celebrate the life of renowned Israel advocate Ari Fuld on his fifth Yahrzeit.
Fuld was murdered by an Arab terrorist in 2018, just several days before Yom Kippur, outside a mall at the Gush Etzion Junction. Before succumbing to his wounds, Fuld managed to chase down the terrorist, shoot and neutralize him, thus saving other lives.
The event was sponsored by the “Ari Fuld Project,” an organization formed in Fuld’s memory, whose mission is to advance projects Fuld was working on at the time of his murder, especially those that lend support to IDF soldiers.
JNS contributor and podcaster Yishai Fleisher, who also serves as the international spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron, received the second annual “Lion of Zion” Prize for his work in fulfilling Fuld’s legacy.
Reflecting on five years since his passing, Fuld’s widow, Miriam, told JNS that “the truth that Ari tried to spread back then is still the truth of today: The Nation of Israel is a strong nation, this is where we as Jews belong, we have no other place to go, we are proud, and we stand up for what we believe in. That’s what Ari believed to his core.”
Ari, she added, “did the work of 20 different people. He never slept. He was always doing, from morning to night.”
He had influenced so many people, through his advocacy work online, his work as a teacher of Torah and martial arts, and much more, that “there are at least 25 children from families around the world named after Ari,” she said.
“To me that means that not only does his legacy live on, but these parents who chose his name saw an opportunity to inspire their child to live for a purpose,” she said. “Ari’s memory lives on, and his life accomplishments will inspire people in future generations, and that has a lot of significance.”
Many of the soldiers in attendance were reservists from Fuld’s IDF Paratroopers unit, while others were soldiers in the Nahal Brigade invited to the event as honored guests, as they are currently on active duty protecting the residents of Gush Etzion.
Paratrooper (res.) Yair Dan told JNS that Fuld was his sixth-grade Torah teacher and also taught him karate. Years later Dan and the much older Fuld reconnected since they served in the same reserve unit, as Fuld decided to continue his IDF service years after he was required to do so.
“On the day he was murdered, Ari and I were supposed to meet, and he was going to help me put together a social media strategy for a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization that I was working with,” said Dan.
“Ari Fuld continues to inspire us. His motivation serving in the IDF, on every single mission [including a stint fighting in the 2006 Second Lebanon War] giving his all out of a sense of Zionism and purpose, was unparalleled,” he added.
Fleisher told JNS he had no idea he would be receiving the Lion of Zion award in Fuld’s memory. “When I saw the video about Ari’s life [aired at the ceremony], I thought to myself, ‘If only my life would be as worthy as his.'”
“Ari,” he added, “was a like an atom splitting. When you split an atom, a tremendous amount of fire is released.” Fleisher said that Fuld’s mother Mary, who was in attendance at the event, approached him after he received the award and instructed him “to keep that fire lit.”
During the ceremony, Stephen Leavitt, director of the Ari Fuld Project and editor-in-chief of JewishPress.com, invited members of Fuld’s unit up to the stage to receive 15 combat vests, donated to the unit via the organization.
He explained to JNS “At the Ari Fuld Project, we’re continuing Ari’s mission by supporting our IDF soldiers, contributing to building Israel, and spreading Ari’s Torah teachings.”
Leavitt told the audience that in the coming days the organization would be donating combat boots to a special IDF unit serving in the Jordan Valley.
In addition to supporting soldiers, the organization is currently focused on completing a beit midrash (house of Torah study) in Fuld’s memory, in his hometown of Efrat. At the same time, the organization hopes to open a “living museum” in Fuld’s memory in Hebron. “We hope seeing the amazing projects we’ve done will inspire more people to support our efforts to continue Ari’s legacy,” said Leavitt.
Miriam added, “In one of the thousands of videos Ari made on social media, he encourages Jews around the world to stand with Israel, and to come join us here.
“Ari said to them, when you read the Tanakh [Bible], and walk in the steps of our forefathers, that is the future of Zionism, here in Israel.”
“Bottom line,” said Miriam, “Ari’s love of the Nation of Israel, and the Land of Israel, meant more than anything else. And if you never knew Ari or met him, go online and meet him. He made thousands of videos on social media, and he lives on through them. He still speaks to every single one of us today,” she said.