By: Doron Almog, Major General (res.), Chairman, ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran
This evening, at the top of the hill in Itamar, we buried Avi Rontzki.
I stood by the grave next to Avi’s mother as she murmured the words, “Where is the justice in the world, oh G-d? Are parents supposed to bury their children?” I hugged her and said that my parents asked the same question when my brother Eran was killed in the Yom Kippur War.
As Chief Military Rabbi, Avi came to Beit Yad L’Banim in Rishon L’Tzion, my hometown, to offer support to parents grieving over their loss. My mother, chair of Beit Yad L’Banim, introduced Avi as BrigADIer General Avi Rontzki, Chief Military Rabbi, and added the words, “For me, he will always be Tetto, my son Doron’s friend from the military boarding school in Haifa.”
We called him Tetto and he was an ongoing, steadfast friend. A person with a huge heart. A person who always remembered his fallen comrades, whose modest ways were a continuation of their lives.
The Yom Kippur War was a turning point in the lives of our class. We were 22 years old; youngsters who lost so many of their friends. Not long after the war, Didi – now my wife, then my girlfriend – and I met Avi and his girlfriend Ronit at their apartment in Jerusalem, sharing with us their first steps on the path to a religious life. Later, we would meet at their children’s weddings, events that turned into class reunions. We knew Avi as a person of courtesy and respect. A person who said little but did much. A very modest man, a role model for all. Over the years, we came to know the Avi who combined the Torah of Israel with his own personal example.
When our son Eran passed away, a Torah scroll was dedicated in his memory. At that time there was no synagogue in the rehabilitative village we had built, and in my distress I turned to my friend, Avi Rontzki, Chief Military Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces. Avi suggested that we hold a Torah procession from ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran to the Hatzerim Air Force base near the village, and that we install the Torah at the base until a synagogue would be built in the village. Avi led the procession, embracing the Torah in his arms. It was an emotional experience; this time Didi and I asking the question, “Where is justice?” How can it be that parents bury their children?
Over the past two years, Avi had to deal with cancer, his illness discovered when he volunteered to donate a kidney to his adopted son who was suffering from kidney disease. After every visit with Avi I left amazed at his optimism and outlook, always looking to do another act of kindness, another good deed. Once, when I visited him at Tel HaShomer Hospital, he said to me, “Doron, my friend Shmulik Rifman, head of the Ramat Negev Council, is in the rehab ward. Let’s go give him some encouragement. Let’s go inspire some other friends hospitalized there.” I found myself going with Avi from bed to bed, encouraging people in their pain and difficulty.
During the period of Avi’s illness, I was invited to speak at Moshav Gimzo, in memory of Yehonatan Einhorn, of blessed memory, who fell as a paratrooper in the Second Lebanon War. At ten o’clock at night Avi got up, apologizing that he had to leave, explaining that he was scheduled to give a midnight Torah class to his students waiting for him in the yeshiva in Itamar.
Avi never complained. All he ever asked was to act for the benefit of others. He left a message on our military boarding school group WhatsApp telling us about his trip to India with his beloved wife Ronit upon his discharge as Chief Military Rabbi in the rank of BrigADIer General. The entire India trip was only to meet and help young Israeli adults in India who were on a trip to “find themselves” upon completing army service.
Avi passed away two days after Seder night. Just like my father. A day on which we wish each other happiness. It’s as if the holiday was chosen to emphasize Avi’s life message. A message saying that justice in our world finds its expression as an ongoing command to do good. My father taught us not to ask where justice can be found, but rather to act to create justice, to do good deeds and kindness each day.
My dear, beloved Avi – your presence will be missed. With our meager actions, we will continue your wonderful life legacy, and may your path be an inspiration for many, many more people in Israel and throughout the world.