I never thought that at my age, I’d have to talk about a good friend in the past tense. And as far as I’m concerned, I don’t view Uriel in the past tense; he’s still here.
Just like all of us, I haven’t quite grasped what happened. What does this mean we won’t meet anymore at the Natan Army Base? Uriel won’t come to Shabbat school reunions anymore? And when we return to yeshiva in shiur daled (4th year), will we be returning without him?
I met Uriel seven years ago. I came to Neve Shmuel during the ninth grade, somewhat after school actually started. Naturally, the class was already pretty well integrated but the group accepted me into their ranks quickly. One of my first memories of those days was Uriel’s constant smile. He was always happy, and never complained about anything.
On Tuesdays, the Neve Shmuel dorm was pretty empty. Most of the students living in Gush Etzion and Jerusalem go home and return at night. But Uriel always loved to stay in the dorm with those who lived far away. Whether it was for homework, movies or other activities, he was there, even though he lived so close by.
As a rule, Uriel was always there when you needed him. It was no secret that Uriel had a sharp brain. Now, a lot of people are intelligent, but very few are wise enough to use their smarts to help others. I can’t count the times that Uriel sat patiently with me on a troublesome physics problem or a long and tedious math formula. It goes without saying that I was far from the only one who benefited from Uriel’s patience!
In my view, his success and perseverance in math and physics characterize his thoroughness and the investment he made in all his endeavors. Time spent with friends, time spent in religious and secular studies. And while we’re on the subject of friends, I’d like to tell a short story that a friend told me last night about Uriel.
During our years in Yeshivat Har Etzion, a group of friends would go to the beach during vacation. One time, so my friend relates, “we swam a bit too far into the water. And we, being typical Jerusalemites, don’t really know the sea too well. Suddenly the tide overcame us and we couldn’t swim back to the beach. I started to panic and then a wave pulled me beneath the water. And suddenly, just like in the movies, I felt a strong arm reaching out from above, pulling me back to the surface. It was Uriel’s arm. He was such a good swimmer. And also here, how natural it was for him to help a friend in distress.
I discovered another side to Uriel in the hesder yeshiva. I wasn’t his learning partner, and we weren’t in the same dorm room. But we spoke a lot anyway, since we both volunteered at the Kfar Shaul Hospital in Jerusalem. We’d go every two weeks, and as always it was a challenge to find a large enough group to go. But Uriel went there regularly.
We were very excited when one of the guys in our shiur (learning group) got married – the first wedding. Our excitement was demonstrated principally in the many rehearsals we did for the dances! Uriel was an accomplished juggler, a skill that that played a significant part in the rehearsals and during the wedding. And just like a motif that persists in reappearing, I remember your skill and that you didn’t try to keep it to yourself. I’m not a great juggler but the little I know, I know from you.
I especially remember one visit to your house. We’d gone for a week to study at a yeshiva in Yerucham and on Saturday night we made our way back to the Gush. It was difficult to get back, and we got to Efrat very late at night. Uriel didn’t hesitate for a minute; of course I’d sleep at his house and the next day set off to Neve Shmuel.
For years I learned to remember by heart the words preceding getting an aliya to the torah: Let Uriel Peretz, the son of Aharon Moshe the Levi, stand.” You were one of the few levi’im at Neve Shmuel. Since I was also a Levi, naturally we’d meet each morning for the cleansing of the Cohens’ hands.
But when we started going to Yeshivat Har Etzion, there were plenty of Levi’im. I “gave up” the job, but you persisted. No difference.
There’s a saying: Worthy is the person who combines learning torah with good manners (respect). The sages give many explanations for this phrase. What does “learning” really mean; what does “good manners” really mean? And what does “good” mean? I don’t know if one explanation is any better than another. But Uriel, when I think of you, I say to myself: anyone wondering how to combine learning torah with good manners would get a clear answer just by taking a quick glance in your direction. You labored pleasantly in the Torah, since pleasantness is your way and your way is peace.
My last meeting with you was at the Natan Army Base, during one of those Sundays when the whole base is there. It seemed that as if by some pre-ordained coincidence, we came back to the army from home. You were reaching the end of the Tank Commander’s course… and I was reaching the end of the Squad Commander’s course. We spoke a little, talking about how our courses were going, where we’d end up afterward, and we also casually discussed the officer’s track. I won’t have the answers to some of these questions anymore.
And in these moments, I remember the wish that our learning group friends heard so many times before our army induction. After two days we got tired of hearing it, but suddenly, the wish, “go in peace and come back in peace” takes on great significance.
Uriel, I don’t know how to leave you. Go in peace, and be our melitz yosher (our advocate) in front of the Almighty.