Before he was a sergeant in the Israeli army, Ari Fuld was a student at Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy, where his father — Rabbi Yonah Fuld — was the principal.
But the younger Fuld had his own lesson for his West 254th Street alma mater — one of legacy, and unfortunately one that wouldn’t be learned until after the 45-year-old’s murder last September.
Ari was at a mall in the West Bank on Sept. 17 when a teenager identified as a Palestinian terrorist, Khalil Jabarin, reportedly stabbed him in the back for what authorities believe was the start of a terrorist attack, according to published reports.
Even with blood flowing down his back, Ari chased after the teen and fatally shot him before anyone else could be stabbed. It was an action Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called heroic.
Ari was rushed to a hospital, but his injuries were too much.
A few months after his death, SAR received a Torah in Ari’s memory from an anonymous donor — not a small gift by any stretch of the imagination. While it had been decades since Ari himself was a student at the school, the students there today learned exactly who Ari was and what he was about.
“That was the perfect fulfillment and everything that he stood for,” said Rabbi Fuld, who traveled from Israel to attend the ceremony. “It was his essence and his core, and was a beautiful memorial and tribute to what he was all about.”
In between all the sports Ari liked to participate in as a child — like hockey, swimming and karate — he enjoyed Jewish studies the most, his father said. As that appreciation grew, Ari took his first steps into Jewish advocacy by joining the army after high school. He enlisted as a soldier and the rest was history, working his way up to sergeant.
Ari may be buried in Jerusalem, but his legacy lives on at SAR. For the rabbi, returning to SAR was a full-circle event, not only in providing a level of closure in regards to his son’s murder, but also the chance to once again walk the halls of an institution Rabbi Fuld loved so much.
“It was a very uplifting experience,” Rabbi Fuld said about his time as principal. “I was there for 23 years and it was a joy of my life and pride and joy. It is such a magnificent place. It’s a place where children grow up and get educated in a pleasant and lifting and warm atmosphere.”
Some 900 students attended the Torah dedication ceremony, and many danced and sang throughout the event, Rabbi Fuld said. The rabbi also lent a hand to the sofer as he completed the Torah — a special moment for him.
“The very fact that someone so graciously donated the Torah, it was the epitome of what he was about,” the rabbi said of Ari. “And as a parent, this school is so close to our hearts and is a major part of our lives.”
Ari was a fighter and advocate for his people, and that’s what he will be remembered for, Rabbi Fuld said. As descendants of Holocaust survivors, Ari also upholds a legacy for his family.
“He reflected everything that we come from and everything that we stand for,” Rabbi Fuld said. “Even in his death, his last act of heroism was something that was really outstanding.”
Ari was a father of four, and was the assistant director of the nonprofit Standing Together, which supported Israeli soldiers.
Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, SAR’s current principal, said it was important “on a number of levels” students there understood who their fellow alumnus was. After the stabbing last fall, a group of SAR sophomores attended a memorial service for the fallen soldier outside the Israeli consulate in Manhattan.
Despite the tragedy, Rabbi Fuld and his family must find ways to move forward. Ari’s eldest daughter is getting married in March. His son is preparing for his bar mitzvah.
“I think Ari and the Fuld family have touched a number of students at SAR, and his murder touched a lot of our students,” Krauss said. “I’m glad we had the opportunity to bring comfort to the family.”