I had heard a few weeks ago that Rafi was in critical condition, and for nearly three weeks I had been praying for his recovery in the “refa’einu” beracha of the shmoneh esrei, every day.
Then on Tuesday morning we were asked to add Rafael Peretz ben Channah to our prayers. When I asked my madrichot what the latest had been, I was told that the doctors were trying to do their best while we were praying for miracles. The unfortunate news came Tuesday night, after coming home from pizza, when hearing from a Nativ friend who had heard from a Darom friend. My mom had tried to call me earlier in the evening, but we were in Rabbi Roth’s lecture and I did not have service.
From that point through the present, I have not been able to digest the news. Just this summer – not even two months ago – I was talking to, learning from, and being inspired by Rafi. He was too young, he had a full life and career ahead of him in the business of bringing people closer to kedusha, to God. The more I think about it, the harder it is for me to conceive of the notion that at one moment, a person’s soul dwells in this world, and in another moment, it dwells in Olam Ha-Ba.
I decided on Tuesday night that I would dedicate a blog post in honor of Rafi’s memory, but I did not conceive of how this tragic event would affect my two immediate communities in Israel, the Nativ and yeshiva communities. There are a few of us on Nativ who knew Rafi, and the news shocked us all incredibly. Our friends, upon hearing the news, supported us as we remained in shock. At yeshiva on Wednesday, I learned that Rafi had studied for a year at the yeshiva. Before their shiurim, Josh and Reb Shmuel recounted a memory they had of Rafi, and the morning learning was dedicated to his memory. This morning, even though there were no classes, a minyan was held at the yeshiva in memory of Rafi, and we spent the rest of the morning studying the last chapter of Mishnah (which, when the letters are rearranged in Hebrew, is "neshama") in Masekhet Sukkah.
What I most want to relate in this blog post is what I learned from Rafi. At camp, tefillah easily becomes rote; for individuals not used to praying daily or even weekly, getting up early in the morning to do such a thing can be a burden. Rafi not only taught, but also demonstrated the opposite. He emphasized the communal aspect of prayer and the power of prayer with a community, a kehila kedosha as he liked to say. I remember a number of summers ago, I was sitting in the beit k’nesset preparing a d’var t’fillah about the relevance of davening the amidah three times daily, and Rafi shared something with me that I believe in to this day. He advocated that after the amidah, people should not sit immediately when they are finished with their personal prayer, but rather they should remain standing until the community as a whole moves on. The reason for this being that it is important to “stand as one,” and when 95% percent of the kahal sits but a few people with great kavannah still daven, it does not have the feel that the community stands together as everyone davens. I cannot think of anyone better to be a mashgiach ruchani, a spiritual advisor, at camp than Rafi. I was always inspired to see Rafi davening and learning in what looked like the most peaceful state of mind. The sort of kavannah that Rafi had when davening and learning is one that we should all be privileged to achieve. Those who spoke about Rafi over the past couple of days at the yeshiva went on about the sort of energy and joy Rafi had when he studied Torah – that we should all learn to have the eagerness that Rafi had for Torah.
I will miss the unique character of Rafi and the conversations we had about yiddishkeit. I have not had so many tears in years. Y’hi Zikhro Barukh.