Rabbi killed in Carmel wildfire survived Lebanon war and saw the positive in every situation. His self-sacrifice to his people will remain his legacy and a powerful example to us all
It was a regular busy Thursday afternoon in my office when I received an email about fires ranging in the north of Israel. The email said something about people having been killed. Of course this saddened me. At the back of my mind I hoped that they would get the fire under control as soon as possible. I said a short prayer and returned to work.
“Have you heard what’s going in in Israel?” my wife asked me on the other end of the line. “Yes, it's terrible,” I said. “Did you hear that our friend Rabbi Uriel Malka was killed?” she further inquired of me.
Suddenly a fire ranging thousands of miles away became personal. Uriel Malka, his wife and family are friends of ours. Both my wife and I worked together with them when they lived in Denver. My wife taught their children and he and I had worked closely together.
Rabbi Uriel Malka (Photo: Amram Cohen)
Uriel was both a friend and a colleague. He constantly and consistently had a smile on his face, he loved people, he loved life, and always had a word of encouragement and Torah to share. Uriel was a Torah Scholar and the epitome of a guy who would not sweat the small stuff. He somehow always saw the positive in every situation.
Originally, his arrival in Denver was delayed because he was fighting in Lebanon. Most of his unit was killed when they were attacked by mortar fire while waiting to be deployed close to the Israel-Lebanon border. He survived the war and never let anything he had witnessed or been through dampen his spirit. He felt that the privilege of defending the Jewish people was worth everything.
Many in the Denver Jewish community loved Uriel, and since he left Denver he has returned regularly to serve the community. His untimely, cruel and unnatural death is a real tragedy not only for his family, but for all who knew and loved him and for the Jewish community which he served.
Uriel Malka blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana
That such a good and holy person could die in such a terrible and painful manner defies belief and makes the age old question of how could bad things happen to a good person even more profound. There is no point trying to answer this question – any answer pales in comparison to the question itself. Meanwhile I am trying to come to grips with the grim reality that I will never again see Uriel’s warm, smiling face.
This terrible event has yet again brought home to me how small the international Jewish community is. Whenever tragedy strikes the Jewish world, there is virtually always a personal connection. At times such as these we are reminded that we Jews make up a tiny fraction of the worlds population and that we are all connected to each other and therefore responsible for each other. None of us is an island and whatever we do affects others.
This week is Hanukkah, when we are celebrating the victory of the weak over the strong and the few against the many. Often we tend to want to just live our own lives as if we are detached from the wider Jewish community. We tell ourselves that we have too much of our own to worry about. But when tragedy comes around we are forced to face the fact that we are still few compared to the many – we Jews are collectively a relatively small community. Each person's contribution is important and no one should be taken for granted.
If there is one thing I learned from Rabbi Uriel Malka it is his unwavering and unfaltering dedication and self-sacrifice to the Jewish people. Whether it was as a warrior, as a teacher, as a rabbi or as a chaplain, Uriel’s unrelenting dedication and self-sacrifice to his people will remain his legacy and a powerful example to us all.