One of the victims of the latest terrorist attack in Israel that left three people dead and five more wounded was a former shaliach who taught at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto.
Rabbi Ya’acov Don, a 51-year-old husband, a father of four, and an educator who spent four years in Toronto as a Jewish studies teacher at TanenbaumCHAT between 1996 and 2000, was killed Nov. 19 in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank when a Palestinian armed with an Uzi submachine gun opened fire on cars near the settlement of Alon Shvut.
According to Ha’aretz, Rabbi Don was among two others who were murdered, and five more who were wounded on Thursday afternoon, just hours after two people were stabbed and killed in Tel Aviv by a Palestinian terrorist.
Rabbi Don died of his injuries at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center.
In Toronto, Joshua Sable, a teacher at TanenbaumCHAT who worked with Rabbi Don, spoke about the influence he had on his students both inside and outside of the classroom.
“He had a wonderful ability to connect with young people and to encourage them to find their own voice and to be engaged in Jewish life,” Sable said.
“His passion for Israel was contagious, and he had a real influence on students and staff in promoting a love for Israel. He always led by example.”
A graduate of the Har-Etzion Yeshiva, Rabbi Don has been a teacher for 25 years. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and earned a master’s degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Rabbi Don, a religious Zionist, was employed by Israel’s education ministry to integrate new educational technologies into Israel’s religious state education system, Mamlachty Dati.
“He touched a lot of people’s lives inside and outside the classroom,” Sable recalled.
“I remember being at a party for him when he was in his last year of his schlichut that students had thrown for him. One thing he said was that as schlichim who come from Israel to teach at Jewish day schools in North America, there is a lot of teaching inside the classroom and outside the classroom, but the most important lesson that he thought he could teach his students was that he would go home to Israel at the end of his schlichut… Going back to Israel, to his home, to the place he loved, was the most important lesson he would leave his students with.”
Rabbi Shaul Feldman, the New York-based executive director of Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth movement, knew Rabbi Don well, as he used to be a leader of one of Bnei Akiva’s programs in Toronto during his time at TanenbaumCHAT.
“When he walked into a room, even if you were sad, your mood would change in a second. Always a smile. In Hebrew, you would say ‘Mah nishma?’ He would have this smile ear to ear, with those words, ‘Mah nishma?’ The warmth of that individual… it’s like he was born to be an educator, because he could connect to that warmth that he gave to those in his surroundings.”
Rabbi Feldman also remembered feeling the love he had for his family.
“Seeing the way he was with his wife and kids, he was such a family person. His kids and his wife were so connected and he loved them. He was a wonderful, wonderful person.”
Sable said he feels sad for Rabbi Don’s family and the Jewish community as a whole.
“My first thoughts go out to his family, whom we knew well. His wife and children were part of the school community… Just feeling sad about them and their loss. He was not just a loss to the family, but a loss to the education community in Israel and to his extended family here,” Sable said.
Rabbi Feldman said that with the seemingly endless and frequent attacks on Israeli citizens, it may be hard to connect to the loss.
“But the circles are getting closer and closer… You hear the news and it saddens you and you don’t know the person, so it’s sometimes harder to connect… We need to feel the pain for every individual, for everybody.”