Yishai Fleisher receives Ari Fuld Lion of Zion award

The second annual Lion of Zion Award was presented to Yishai Fleisher, the international spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, on Thursday night, the fifth yahrtzeit (anniversary of his passing) in Kfar Etzion. About 200 people, friends, and family, gathered near the Gush Etzion kibbutz located about five kilometers from Efrat and a few hundred meters from Gush Etzion, where he was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist.

The prize is awarded to activists who have dedicated themselves to building Eretz Yisrael and defending the Jewish people.

A clear consensus among the organizers chose Fleisher as a powerful force in continuing Fuld’s mission. 

Fleisher told JNS that he did not have prior knowledge that he would be receiving the award.

“When I saw the video about Ari’s life [aired at the ceremony], I thought to myself, ‘If only my life would be as worthy as his.’”

“Ari,” he added, “was like an atom splitting. When you split an atom, a tremendous amount of fire is released.” Fleisher said that Fuld’s mother, Mary, who was in attendance at the event, approached him after he received the award and instructed him “to keep that fire lit.”

Reflecting on five years since his passing, Fuld’s widow Miriam told JNS that “the truth that Ari tried to spread back then is still the truth of today: The Nation of Israel is a strong nation, this is where we as Jews belong, we have no other place to go, we are proud, and we stand up for what we believe in. That’s what Ari believed to his core.”

Ari, she added, “did the work of 20 different people. He never slept. He was always doing, from morning to night.”

He had influenced so many people, through his advocacy work online, his work as a teacher of Torah and martial arts that “there are at least 25 children from families around the world named after Ari,” she said.

“To me, that means that not only does his legacy live on, but these parents who chose his name saw an opportunity to inspire their child to live for a purpose,” she said. “Ari’s memory lives on, and his life accomplishments will inspire people in future generations, and that has a lot of significance,” she added.

Fuld, a 45-year-old father of four,  was stabbed in the back by a Palestinian teen on September 16, 2018, at a market in Gush Etzion just a few days before Yom Kippur. He was mortally wounded in the initial attack but managed to pursue his attacker and open fire with his personal pistol. His actions undoubtedly saved lives in the crowded shopping area. Born in New York, Fuld made aliyah in 1994, settling in Efrat in Gush Etzion. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Distinction, the third-highest award granted by the Israel Police.

A Holocaust survivor’s grandson, Fuld was a fourth-degree black belt who served in an elite unit in the Israeli paratroopers. He was well-known on social media for his pro-Israel advocacy and worked for an organization that supports IDF soldiers. He was known to give care packages to IDF soldiers fighting in Gaza.

Also in attendance were several of his brothers-in-arms from Fuld’s paratroopers unit. Also, present at the event were soldiers from the Nahal Brigade that is currently protecting that area of Gush Etzion.

Paratrooper (res.) Yair Dan told JNS that Fuld was his sixth-grade Torah teacher and also taught him karate. Years later, Dan and the much older Fuld reconnected since they served in the same reserve unit, as Fuld decided to continue his IDF service years after he was required to do so.

“On the day he was murdered, Ari and I were supposed to meet, and he was going to help me put together a social media strategy for a Jerusalem-based non-profit organization that I was working with,” said Dan.

“Ari Fuld continues to inspire us. His motivation serving in the IDF, on every single mission [including a stint fighting in the 2006 Second Lebanon War] giving his all out of a sense of Zionism and purpose, was unparalleled,” he added.

During the ceremony, Stephen Leavitt, director of the Ari Fuld Project and editor-in-chief of JewishPress.com, invited members of Fuld’s unit up to the stage to receive 15 combat vests, donated to the unit via the organization.

He explained to JNS “At the Ari Fuld Project, we’re continuing Ari’s mission by supporting our IDF soldiers, contributing to building Israel, and spreading Ari’s Torah teachings.”

Leavitt told the audience that in the coming days the organization would be donating combat boots to a special IDF reservist unit serving in the Jordan Valley.

The Ari Fuld Project is currently working on building a Beit Midrash (study hall for holy subjects) in Fuld’s memory in his hometown of Efrat. 

Last year,  The Ari Fuld Project presented their first annual Ari Fuld Lion of Zion Prize for 2022/5783 to Rabbis  Jeremy Gimpel and Ari Abramowitz, partners in building the Arugot Farm in Gush Etzion and in The Land of Israel Network

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