It was evident that organizers had no idea how many people felt they just had to be at a particular park in the Israeli city of Ra’anana last month for the dedication of a baseball field in the name of Ezra Schwartz.
With every seat filled and a couple of hundred people on the sidelines, remarkably none of them – not even the youngest baby – bore any sign of impatience during the entire 50-minute ceremony.
Ezra was the kind of guy who inspired that kind of devotion.
Six years have passed since the day when the car the 18-year-old was riding in was attacked by a terrorist who opened fire on Nov. 19, 2015, killing Schwartz and two other students from Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh. The young men inside were stopped in traffic south of Jerusalem, on their way to beautify an area that serves as a memorial to three Israeli teenage boys who were kidnapped and killed the summer before.
Those who attended the dedication of the Ezra Schwartz Memorial Baseball Field included his parents, Ari and Ruth Schwartz, who traveled from their home in Sharon to attend the ceremony.
The new field, a project of the Israel Association for Baseball, is only the second regulation baseball diamond in the country. And it’s no coincidence that this is the sport chosen to represent this particular young man. As his dad said, “Ezra lived the game, and he loved the game.”
So much so that the day before his death, Ezra had sent an email to the IAB asking to join the league; he’d been a star on the team at the Maimonides School in Brookline. Instead, a month later, when his parents flew in to meet with his rabbis and friends, the IAB suggested that a field be built and dedicated to their son’s memory.
The fundraising took time and perseverance, with Ezra’s paternal grandparents, Mark and Heni Schwartz of New Haven, Conn., chipping away at a budget that was eventually set at $500,000.
For Ezra’s uncle Yoav Schwartz, who lives with his family in Ra’anana, managing the multiyear fundraising was an undertaking that would require the steadfast support of partners such as Mel Levi, Sharon regional director of the IAB, as well as IAB board members Ruby Schechter and David Levy, both of Ra’anana. The Jewish National Fund filled the role of funneling contributions, and also on board was the Jewish fraternity AEPi, including the chapter at Rutgers University that Ezra was scheduled to attend the following fall.
“So many people got behind this project because of Ezra’s endearing personality, his love of baseball, and his love of life,” said Yoav Schwartz.
His wife, Pam Schwartz, put it this way: “When you lose someone you love, it leaves a hole. For Yoav, this project has been a place to put all that love and all that missing into the hole left by Ezra.”
According to Peter Kurz of the IAB, the building of the baseball field corresponds with a surge in interest in the sport among new immigrants from the United States and native Israelis alike.
“We’ve exploded from 500 players five years ago to 1,500 today,” said Kurz. “And this year, we’re going from one regulation diamond in Petach Tikvah to three: here in Ra’anana, and next month, one is opening in Beit Shemesh.”
Among the many ways that Ezra is being memorialized is the annual Ezra Schwartz Baseball Tournament, through his high school alma mater, as well as scholarships through Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire, where he was a longtime camper and later a beloved counselor.
After his aunt cleaned out Ezra’s room in the yeshivah, she brought his mitt to his father during Shiva – which Ari wore at the field dedication.
“Part of Ezra’s soul is in this glove, it was probably his most precious possession,” he said.
With his wife Sarah, Rabbi Noah Cheses – who took the pulpit of the family’s congregation, Young Israel of Sharon, shortly after Ezra’s death – was among those who named a son Ezra. Nearly five years ago, Cheses spoke these words at their newborn’s brit milah:
“Ezra was at his core an ozer, a ‘helper.’ He was a person who sized up any situation in terms of the needs that others had and how he could help address those needs. We want our son to be, at his core, a helper – someone who can be counted upon to lend a hand, to pitch in without being asked to do so. Our goal in choosing this name is to make a statement about our hopes and dreams for our little guy.”
The rabbi then had a vision: “We hope that all these Ezras, when they get to Israel in 18 years and their friends ask, ‘Why is everyone from Boston named Ezra?’ they will make a trip to the place where Ezra helped out and will say to their friends: ‘This is why we are called Ezra. Here walked a young man who was a uniquely caring friend. We carry his name and his legacy.’ ”
That personal style impressed Noam Traum, who was a child growing up next door to the Schwartz family when Ezra was killed. “He was so much older than me, but he included me in every game,” said Noam, who is spending a gap year in Jerusalem and was on hand at the ceremony. “He never left us little kids out.”
Ezra’s mother hopes that her son’s philosophy transmits to the new Israeli players.
“Some kids have tantrums on the field when the game doesn’t go their way,” said Ruth Schwartz. “But Ezra never did. He was always calm and confident. And not only do all his brothers and sister play the game because of him, but today, his legacy has expanded tremendously, right here on this field. We hope every child who plays baseball here will feel Ezra’s cool, calm support and his love of baseball.”