Neve Zuf is a lovely, yet relatively isolated community. Founded in 1977, it was one of the first communities to be settled in Samaria. When my husband Ed and I came to Israel in 1982 for a visit, in anticipation of our Aliyah, we were asked by our Aliyah group in New York to check out various communities in Judea and Samaria that would be appropriate for us to settle in. We only checked two: Neve Zuf and Karnei Shomron.
We spent Shabbat in Neve Zuf and it was an experience. At the time, there were no permanent homes in the community — everyone lived in mobile homes or small temporary housing units. There was an old fortress that had been used by the British as a police station that housed the synagogue and the pre-schools. As a young American couple, we had never encountered such a pioneering and idealistic lifestyle and it charmed us. Conditions were difficult but the people we met that weekend were all united in a common cause — to settle the Land of Israel and create a community that would become a model of solidarity with one another, where neighbors looked out for one another and became extended family.
We ended up choosing to live in Karnei Shomron , where a wonderful Aliyah project attracted more than 50 new immigrant families to the community. Some time after we moved to Israel, Neve Zuf set up an aliyah project of its own, complete with its own ulpan for intensive Hebrew language study. Friends of ours, Shu and Yogi Rimel, decided to move to Neve Zuf at that time.
Many of you have met Shu and Yogi. For more than 20 years, they have been the CFOIC Heartland representatives in Neve Zuf and have always opened their hearts and their home to receive our guests. Shu has run the community office for close to 30 years and Yogi has nearly single-handedly set up the volunteer network of fire-fighters and medics, responding to every emergency in the community with speed and efficiency. And whenever he needed life-saving emergency equipment, he would turn to us and thanks to you, our faithful donors and friends, we were able to give him what he needed.
Yogi and Shu are now in the hospital, sitting round the clock in the ICU with their son Ephraim, who was seriously injured in a terrible car accident Saturday night. Ephraim’s wife Tzippy was killed instantly together with their 3-week old daughter Noam. Their 12 year old son Itai is also fighting for his life at the same hospital. Ephraim has already undergone surgery to repair internal injuries and will need additional surgery. Itai has suffered massive internal and brain injuries. Only time will tell if they survive and in what condition.
Tzippy and baby Noam were buried together yesterday at the small cemetery in Neve Zuf. I went to the funeral, together with hundreds of people from all over Israel. Rabbi Yaakov Medan, a prominent rabbi and teacher who is very close to Ephraim, expressed the pain that we were all feeling and cried out to G-d with anguish at the tragedy of death at such a young age. A young mother who was a teacher, youth counselor and who volunteered in so many capacities — what a loss to her family and to the entire community. And the baby — what she could have become had she had the chance to grow up under the guidance of such parents and such a family!
I have known Shu and her entire family for years. Shu’s brother Josh and his wife Mindy are among our closest friends. Some of you have met Josh when you visited Zufim, a community just near Karnei Shomron. Ephraim was in school with my son Yehoshua and many of our children and their friends are connected with the Rimels. At the funeral, young and old, residents of Neve Zuf and friends and family from around the country, stood together in shock and in sorrow, trying to absorb this terrible tragedy.
A young Arab man, driving 180 kilometers an hour, ploughed into the Rimels’ car as they waited at a stoplight. He was not drunk, just insanely reckless, indifferent to his own life as well as to others. The Rimels had gone to Jerusalem just after Shabbat to pick up their oldest son who had spent the weekend with cousins visiting from the US. It had been a great weekend and they were smiling, happy, thankful for their good fortune, with their oldest son starting to think about his Bar Mitzvah and their new baby, sleeping soundly in her car seat. Nothing could have prepared them for what came next.
Car accidents happen everywhere and all too often. There is nothing unusual in the story I have told today. Except perhaps the interconnectedness of so many. In a country where everyone is like family, the tragedies of one family affect us all. The story of this accident has been a major news story since it happened. Regular updates on Ephraim and Itai are broadcast all over the country and everyone has heard and is following the story. Because we can all relate to this one family. Even those who have never met the Rimels, who have never been to Neve Zuf — when they see the picture of Ephraim and Tzippy, holding their newborn baby just three weeks ago, they relate, they feel and they care. And that is Israel.
May G-d bring recovery and health to Itai and Ephraim, and may He bring comfort and restoration to the entire family as they try to come to terms with their terrible loss. May the memory of Tzippy and Noam be blessed.