It was just a moment. One among many thousands of contact points in the life of an inspirational figure. One that passed too quickly, but its impression still reverberates.
I don’t know how tall Ari Fuld was. It didn’t matter. He was a strapping man whose personality was much larger than his appearance. And when you met him, only one thought came to mind: a giant.
Ari was in Los Angeles to raise funds for his buddies, his proud comrades-in-arms in the Israel Defense Forces. They were with him on the front lines to do a job protecting his beloved state. But you didn’t need to be in his unit for Ari to love you. He loved you simply for putting on the uniform. There are hundreds of stories and more still coming in that confirm this.
Ari Fuld saw a need when he served (for more than 20 years in an elite paratrooper unit). He saw soldiers on the front in the middle of nowhere who could be helped psychologically by small gestures—the little extras that even the most advanced military divisions don’t normally provide. Some pizza or waffles or even some blankets. And he made it his business to deliver them. He got his hands on a truck that could package and cook food and supplies, and in many cases, he delivered “the goods” to troops on the fronts, in the north and south. He created an organization with no bureaucracy, no red tape and no committees. Just friends “Standing Together” (the organization’s name) and assisting.
Ari Fuld admitted to me that he never knew anything about raising money. He simply stood up and asked his fellow Jews all over the world to help him.
That gets us back to the riveting moment. It took place at a private home a year ago in Valley Village, Calif. Maybe it was the way he asked for help. I remember thinking to myself that, if I could have a sliver of the genuine inspiration clearly evident in Ari’s eyes, how much better I could be as a fundraiser. Or maybe it was the fact that Ari’s father works for Bar-Ilan University, the institution I have represented for 33 years. Or maybe it was the fact that he handed me a piece of heavy, sharp shrapnel that was taken out of his back when he served in Lebanon in 2006. Or it could have been the fact that he lived in Efrat, where my daughter lives.
Whatever it was, that moment with Ari Fuld stayed with me. And now it haunts me. Could I have done more to help him with his cause? He was known as a man who would “take the shirt off his back” for anyone in need. Am I really ready to do that? Can I ever have the effect on people that Ari had on me in that moment?
After being stabbed in the back, Ari chased down his 17-year-old murderer and shot him before he collapsed. This may have cost Ari his life. One last act of supreme heroism in a life replete with courage.
But life will never be the same for Ari’s wife and four kids. And the murderer will probably be glorified, and a children’s camp will probably be named for him for perpetrating this despicable act of cowardice. Ari was called by God to a different post just three days before Yom Kippur. And he left us with the ultimate act of courage. He saved people.
“Like a stone in the hand of the cutter—
He grasps it at will and smashes it at will—
So are we in Your hand, O source of life and death … ”
‒ Part of an anonymous prayer on the night of Kol Nidre
Ron Solomon is executive vice president of the American Friends of Bar-Ilan University.