From Yoni’s Desk: How Ari Fuld gave new life to Israel advocacy

People gather to pay their respects to Ari Fuld. (Flash90 photo)

Late yesterday evening, at the funeral of Ari Fuld, the Israeli-American killed in a terror attack earlier that day, Fuld’s father eulogized his son. “He went to milluim whenever he was called,” the elder Fuld said, referring to reserve duty in the Israel Defence Forces. Ari’s mother, the father continued, asked him, “When are you going to sit out? When are you going to stop?” His response: “With my last breath.”

Ari Fuld did just that. Literally. Stabbed in the back by a 17-year-old Palestinian outside a shopping mall in the West Bank, Fuld still managed to neutralize his attacker before he could harm anyone else. You can see his heroism for yourself in the security camera footage of the attack: Fuld chases his assailant at full speed. He jumps over a short wall in pursuit, but when he lands, his body seems to give way. Legs buckling, he veers into a doorway, at which point you expect he is about to succumb to his injury. But then he manages to right himself, draw a gun, aim and shoot the terrorist (who is currently recovering in an Israeli hospital). After that, he leans against a wall, and the video ends. Fuld was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Ari Fuld

Fuld leaves behind a wife and four children, and a grief-stricken nation. Tributes to Fuld, a noted right-wing activist, poured in Sunday from across the political and religious spectrum, in Israel and far beyond. Ideological allies and enemies alike recalled Fuld’s infectious energy and his love for Eretz Yisra’el. His funeral began with an hour of communal singing, a nod to Fuld’s spiritual side. Watching the proceedings as the mournful crowd belted its collective heart out, it was impossible not to shed a tear.

Fuld’s legacy – and it is an important one – will be his work in Israel advocacy, specifically online, where he truly made a name for himself taking on the Jewish state’s multitude of haters. Many of those who mourned him on social media Sunday repeated a similar refrain: they may have never met Fuld personally, but after watching his Facebook videos, they felt as though they knew him. In a very real sense, he was at the vanguard of a new generation of hasbarists. Barrel-chested and kippah-clad, the affable Fuld brought personality – cheerfulness, even – to what has traditionally been a staid and serious endeavour. And in the process, he taught tens of thousands of people about the beauty of Israel.

In his final video, posted just before Shabbat, Fuld spoke about the week’s Torah reading, in which Moses, living his final days, calls together the people of Israel and their new leader, Joshua, for one last lesson. “Be strong and of good courage, fear not,” he tells them, “for ha-Shem will not fail you, nor forsake you.” Fuld noted an apparent oddity in the text: why didn’t Moses seek to privately impart wisdom on his successor, Joshua, choosing instead to speak to the entire nation as one? The answer, Fuld posited, is that “a leader is only as good as his followers.”

“It’s up to you,” he said, just before signing off.