Sitting on low chairs in a crowded room in his home in Beitar Illit, friends and family of Yechezkel (Chezi) Goldberg gathered together to remember and honor a man they described as kind, selfless, and devoted to his extended community.
Goldberg was on his way to work last Thursday when bus number 19 exploded on Jerusalem's Gaza Street. Friends say the trained counselor had scheduled therapy sessions throughout the day, and clients began to worry after he missed his first appointment at 9 A.M.
Goldberg, who immigrated from Toronto 10 years ago, was an active member in the 500-family community of Anglos in Beitar Illit. But friends say that his influence went far beyond that population. "This is a close knit community and the loss of Chezi is hard for the English speaking community," said Bradford Hauser, Goldberg's American-born neighbor. "But the people mourning here are not just English speakers."
The mourners, some of whom arrived from the U.S. and Canada, recalled a deeply religious man who was not influenced by established religious norms. "The label Haredi didn't hinder him," longtime friend and fellow Canadian Joe Halpert said. "He did things because he believed in them, not because he should have."
An active participant in Beitar Illit's two Anglo synagogues, Goldberg prayed in the community's "American shul," which was based on a typical North American model, but he frequented the synagogue of Bostoner Hassidim as well, where he served as sexton.
The former resident of Toronto was especially well known for his work with troubled Anglo youth, and was outspoken in revealing the problem to a somewhat reluctant community. A frequent contributor to Orthodox newspapers and a former radio host on the right-wing station Arutz Sheva, Goldberg, 42, was also featured in a Ministry of Absorption publication on immigrant youth. In a section entitled, "Why are Anglo Kids in Trouble: An In-depth Discussion with Chezi Goldberg," Goldberg pointed to the problems facing many ultra-Orthodox immigrant youths.
"They come from places where it is acceptable to learn in yeshiva and go to Yankees games or shoot hoops after studies," he wrote, and suddenly they find themselves in a new Israeli framework in which anything outside of strict Torah study is dismissed as frivolous.
"Chezi worked with special needs children in North America, and he realized that working with immigrant youth is an extension of that," said Avraham Guttmann, Goldberg's neighbor in Beitar Illit and former classmate from Toronto. "He understood that a child who is not comfortable in his own home is also a special [needs] child."
Beitar Illit, a settlement just 10 minutes out of Jerusalem, is known as "The Torah City in the Judean Hills." One of the poorest Jewish cities in Israel with a growing population of 26,000, it is exclusively inhabited by ultra-Orthodox, many of whom are full time yeshiva students. The city has 16,000 children, a third of whom are under the age of five, and has plans to expand to 70,000 residents.
Goldberg, who was a member of the settlement's security committee, was instrumental in lobbying for a regular bus service to and from Jerusalem. The city's English-speaking mayor, Yitzchak Pindrus, described him this week as deeply committed to the development and safety of Beitar Illit.
The community, meanwhile, has already begun fundraising for Goldberg's family - his wife Shifra and seven children, aged one to 16. The Anglo community, roughly 10 percent of the general Beitar Illit population, is hardly immune to the poverty that effects their native-Israeli neighbors, and Anglo leaders like Guttmann have already turned to communities in the U.S. and Canada to garner financial support for the fund. Friends have set up a website, (www.goldbergmemorial.org) complete with links to his biography, past publications, and the fund in his memory. Goldberg's house, Guttmann adds, has been crowded with friends and family all week. "The community is taking it very hard," says Guttmann. "Chezi touched a lot of people."