I still remember the Friday night of December 27, 2002. I was scheduled to join my Israeli friends for a Shabbaton at the Otniel Yeshivat Hesder, but for reasons I no longer remember I decided at the last moment to stay back in Alon Shevut.
As it turns out, that was the night when two Islamic Jihad terrorists infiltrated Otniel, entered the yeshiva through the back door of the kitchen, and started firing at the four yeshiva students who were on "toranut," kitchen duty. Many will recall the heroism of Noam Apter (below, 23), who had the presence of mind to lock the door connecting the kitchen to the chadar ochel (dining hall), where the Otniel students and my Israeli friends from Yeshivat Har Etzion were enjoying their dinner. In death, he and the other three students - Gavriel Choter (17), Tzvi Zimen (18) and Yehuda Bamberger (20) - slowed down the terrorists enough to have likely saved many lives. Still, the terrorists managed to injure a number of students in the dining hall, including one critically, before they eventually were killed.
I still recall the questions that flooded my mind when I learned of the attack: What if I had attended, as planned? How would I have responded to the trauma of being in the room during the attack? How did my Israeli friends find the strength to continue functioning after witnessing their friends were gunned down before their eyes? Had I been in Noam's place, would I have had the presence of mind to bar the doors and potentially save my dear friends and classmates?
Tonight and tomorrow we not only mourn those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but we also take to heart the lessons they taught us in death that remain with us for our lifetimes. Noam, Gavriel, Tzvi and Yehuda remind us that our lives are significant to the extent that we are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice not only for ourselves, but for others, and ultimately, as they did, for His name.
Yehi Zichram Baruch.