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A Hail of Bullets Snuffed Out the Light

Sarah Pardes

A terrorist armed with an automatic weapon appeared out of nowhere, and standing at close range, pointed the barrel at Rav Raziel’s car

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

 Mishpacha image

“Raziel asked that if something were ever to happen to him, he should be buried in Chavat Gilad. We respect his wishes. I ask that whoever is able should come to the levayah,” his widow, Yael, said early that morning. Indeed, thousands came from all over the country. The ground of Chavat Gilad was wet with tears, masses weeping at the sight of six orphans (Photo: Flash90)

T uesday January 9, 8 p.m., Jith Junction in Shomron

At that hour, there were few cars on the mountainous stretch of Highway 60, which connects Netanya with the Shomron communities. Rabbi Raziel Shevach, 35, was concentrating intently on the road, tired at the end of a long day. He was returning from checking up on a baby whose bris he performed the previous day, stopped off to do some grocery shopping, and was on his way to the nightly shiur in his home community of Chavat Gilad.

Without warning, the sound of gunshots broke the thick silence all around. A terrorist armed with an automatic weapon appeared out of nowhere, and standing at close range, he pointed the barrel toward the driver’s seat of Rav Raziel’s car.

The forensics team later counted 22 bullets.

In the first few seconds, Raziel — father of six, ranging in ages from ten to eight months — was still conscious, and even managed to call his wife with a message: “I’ve been shot. Send an ambulance.”

“He took life seriously, constantly thinking how he could fill his time in the best way possible,” Dr. Koby says. “In addition to Torah study, which took a central role in his life, he was always looking for ways to benefit his family, his friends in the community, and basically, anyone who needed help”

“I was driving in the opposite direction when it happened,” relates MK Betzalel Smotrich of the Bayit Yehudi party, who lives in Kedumim. “At the side of the road, we saw a car riddled with bullet holes. I understood that it was a terror attack, and together with another driver who stopped nearby, we removed the victim from the car, although neither of us was trained in first aid and there wasn’t much we could do until the ambulance arrived, even though it was just a few seconds later.”

Evaluating the situation, a military ICU ambulance arrived and evacuated Raziel to Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba. At the beginning of the journey he was still conscious, but his situation soon deteriorated — the attending medics lost his pulse. He was whisked into the hospital’s trauma unit, but despite valiant efforts to save him, at 8:30 Rabbi Raziel Shevach Hy”d joined the thousands of other kedoshim who have died al kiddush Hashem in Eretz Yisrael.

On the way to the levayah, Dr. Raphael Koby, Rabbi Shevach’s father-in-law, tried to make sense of the shock and pain. “My daughter called me just minutes after he phoned her,” Dr. Koby remembers. “She told me he called her to say he was wounded, that she’d already summoned an ambulance, and that I — as both a physician and resident of Kfar Saba — should run to the hospital. I came just minutes after Raziel was brought into the trauma room, but they wouldn’t let me enter due to the state he was in. There was nothing to do but stand outside and daven — until they called us in so that we could part from him.”

Dr. Koby describes his son-in-law as an “ish ehkolot” — a multitalented rav held in very high esteem in the Shomron area, a towering talmid chacham who toiled in Torah, who studied and taught and did chesed, helping people in all sorts of ways.

“Before his marriage, Raziel volunteered with Kav L’Chaim, an organization that helps the sick and disabled. Later, he studied for the rabbinate and specialized in shechitah and milah, while both learning and teaching at the Ro’eh Yisrael yeshivah in Yitzhar. He was studying to become a dayan, and often he’d stay up all night learning, and sometimes he’d only return home at the end of the week,” says Dr. Koby, for whom death isn’t foreign, yet who can’t believe he’s talking about his precious son-in-law in the past tense. “We had a lot of discussions about it over the years. He was a lot more chareidi and yerei Shamayim than I am, and although I didn’t always agree with him, he was my inspiration.” 

Dr. Koby says that after their marriage 11 years ago, the young couple lived in Sderot, during the period when constant missile fire from Gaza regularly disrupted daily life. After that they moved to the town of Kedumim in the Shomron, and then to Chavat Gilad, an outpost established in 2002 in memory of Shomron security coordinator Gilad Zar, who was shot and killed by terrorists the year before. 

Seize the Mitzvah

As a professional mohel, Raziel would travel all over Eretz Yisrael to fulfill the mitzvah. Many of the babies he circumcised were from secular families. Along with bandages and ointment, he carried around a steady supply of jokes — realizing that he would often be the only religious contact in the lives of many of the families he was servicing, and he wanted the experience to be positive.

A few hours after the murder, a family wrote on social media of their encounter with Rav Raziel: The wife had just given birth to a boy, and the bris was scheduled to be on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, in Kfar Tapuach, a small settlement with no mohel of its own. The father called every mohel he could think of, but no one was willing to come to the small yishuv for Rosh Hashanah; everyone wanted to be home with their families, or with their own rebbeim or rebbes.

Someone gave the father the name of Rav Raziel Shevach. “Of course I’ll come,” said the mohel to the surprised father. The father asked why he was willing to come, and Raziel said simply, “My wife and I see it as a zechus, and we agreed that whenever the mitzvah comes our way, we would seize it.”

Raziel also volunteered with Magen David Adom, and was an active part of the medical team in the Shomron communities.

“He took life seriously, constantly thinking how he could fill his time in the best way possible,” Dr. Koby says. “In addition to Torah study, which took a central role in his life, he was always looking for ways to benefit his family, his friends in the community, and basically, anyone who needed help. He was warm and caring, with an exceptional approach when it came to the youth, and they returned his affection.

To some, there were two Raziels. The energy and enthusiasm he displayed as an askan, a community leader, the heart and soul of every public event or program — yet this same man would often spend all night in the yeshivah, the quiet masmid whose wife would pack him a dinner and wish him well as he headed off to the side bench in the yeshivah in Yitzhar. After learning all night, he would rest for a while by his shtender, then go to the mikveh and toivel, and emerge bursting with joy and happiness for the new day ahead.

“His relationship with his wife and children was also exceptional,” reflects Dr. Koby. “He was involved in their lives down to the smallest details, helping the older children with their homework, and caring for the little ones. Despite being extremely busy with his holy work, learning Torah and serving as mohel, as soon as he came home, the family always knew that he was ready and willing to help them, tired as he was.”

As a popular rav, he was often asked for chinuch advice as well. Always, Rav Raziel would say, the key ingredient in chinuch is simchah. “You should spend time with your children and make sure that time is enjoyable and pleasant. Let your children share in the joy of a mitzvah, of life itself.”

No Answers

After receiving the crushing news in the hospital, Dr. Koby went with his wife to Chavat Gilad to notify their daughter and grandchildren. “We stood there, together with Yael and the children, facing the eldest daughter who is ten and who had some comprehension of the situation, and the eight-month-old who was smiling as usual. We told them that Abba had gone up to Shamayim and that he was watching us from there. He will continue to pray for us from Above, we said, until we’ll see him again after techiyat hameisim. 

“It was tough. The kids were in shock. Nothing had prepared them for this horrific tragedy. But there is emunah in that place, and they have a great, strong mother. Without doubt, Raziel will also continue to pray for them, that they find the strength to carry on.”

It didn’t take long before other families began streaming to the Shevach home, neighbors and friends, as well as security personnel who began combing the territory for the fugitive terrorist. 

As far as the residents of the community are concerned, the writing was already on the wall. Just a week earlier, Yitzhar resident Shai Ramati encountered a terrorist who signaled to him to stop and then tried to shoot him. If not for the gun malfunctioning b’chasdei Hashem, Ramati would not be alive today.

“It happened at the same junction, a few meters from the scene of the attack,” Ramati said in an interview several hours after Shevach was murdered. “When my attacker approached, at first I thought it was someone who needed help, but as soon as I saw he had a gun, I tried to press myself against the side of the car. After a minute, I took my gun and exited the car, apparently scaring away the terrorist, who took off in the direction of Shechem. 

“I called the police, and security forces started arriving on the scene. They interrogated me, and asked me to identify the terrorist from pictures they showed me. When I asked why they don’t check the security cameras, they said there are no cameras anywhere around that junction.”

Dry up the Swamp

Wednesday morning, January 10. Security forces worked all night on the ground, but the terrorist cell was never found. The chief of staff arrived to oversee the searches and arrests, while the Shevach family waited for the levayah. Raziel’s widow wanted her husband to be buried in the cemetery of the community he loved so much. “Raziel asked that if something were ever to happen to him, he should be buried in Chavat Gilad. We respect his wishes. I ask that whoever is able should come to the levayah,” she said early that morning.

Indeed, thousands came from all over the country. The ground of Chavat Gilad was wet with tears, masses weeping at the sight of six orphans, most of whom didn’t even grasp how their lives have been irrevocably altered. 

In the political arena, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked promised to do everything possible to authorize Chavat Gilad as a recognized community as opposed to a contested outpost, after which additional housing units will be built there.

But despite those words of encouragement, MK Smotrich put political reactions into perspective. “Tragically, we are redeeming the land with blood, but we can’t redeem the blood with land,” Smotrich said. “I welcome the decision to recognize Chavat Gilad as an official community, but that won’t bring back the beloved father of this broken family. Still, perhaps recognizing the community, building new communities and adding new housing units, will prevent the next terror attack. 

“Meanwhile,” Smotrich continued, “I believe the defense establishment is working intensively and they’ve thwarted many attacks. Without discounting the pain of this terror attack, we can’t ignore all the potential attacks that have been prevented. But still, the agenda has to be changed. The solution is not to run after the mosquitoes, but to dry up the swamp.” 

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 694)

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