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Dec 30, 2000 – Hundreds of visitors came to pay condolence calls to the family in shock over such a senseless murder. Esh Kodesh Gilmore was just 25, working as a security guard at an Israeli Social Security office serving the interests of Arabs in East Jerusalem. The terrorist who walked into the lobby and aimed a gun at Esh Kodesh’s head didn’t care — he was aiming to kill a Jew, any Jew.
Among those who came to mourn Esh Kodesh was his kindergarten teacher, who brought with her a yellowed, dog-eared paper. Almost two decades before, on her birthday, she had asked the children in her class to give her blessings, which she wrote down for posterity. “May you live a long life,” said one child. “May you be rich,” said another. “May you bake good cakes.” And then there was the blessing that little Esh Kodesh bestowed on her: “May they not kill you. May you not die young.”
Esh Kodesh’s father, Reuven Gilmore, came to Israel in 1972 for his junior year of college. Raised in a Reform Jewish home in Cleveland, Reuven had questions about life and God which he did not think Judaism, as he knew it, could answer. During that year in Jerusalem, friends brought him to Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s House of Love and Prayer, where a young Reuven Gilmore fell in love with Judaism. He decided to stay in Israel to learn and to actualize his ideals by leading an authentic Jewish life close to nature.
Meanwhile, 18-year-old Zahava Alexander followed her dreams to Israel. Coming from a traditional family in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the resolute Zahava made a “conscious decision to keep Shabbat” while still in fourth grade. After a year at Bar Ilan University, Zahava too moved to Jerusalem.
Reuven and Zahava met at the House of Love and Prayer. A year and a half later, they married and moved to a rural area in the North of Israel.
While praying one day, Reuven experienced an intuitive flash: that the child Zahava was carrying would be a boy, and that his name was Esh Kodesh, meaning “Holy Fire” or “Fire of the Holy One.”
According to the Sages, parents experience a kind of prophecy when they name their children. Questioned after his son’s death, Reuven insists that he did not choose the unusual name based on any connotations of sacrifice nor even as a reference to the Chassidic Rebbe of the same name who perished in the Holocaust. “Esh Kodesh was simply his name. That’s who he was.”
Zahava adds: “I always felt that his name referred to the special spark of holiness that every Jew has inside.”
When Esh Kodesh was 18 months old, the Gilmores became one of seven families — all followers of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach — to found Moshav Meor Modiin halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The moshav, an agricultural community, became not only the Israeli home of Reb Shlomo and his most committed followers, but also drew thousands of guests who wanted to taste the unique flavor of a “Shlomo Shabbos,” complete with joyful prayer, all sung to Shlomo melodies, and Torah teachings which never failed to open the heart.
The Gilmores knew that dreams have to be actualized by hard work and diligence. They planted avocado and apricot trees, grew wheat, and invested their savings in a herd of sheep for milking. They worked 15-hour days, and were blessed with five more children: Malkitzedek, Tiferet, Heftzibah, Eliana, and Dror Golan.
Unlike almost every other Israeli moshav, Meor Modiin had no basketball court nor soccer field. Instead, young Esh Kodesh and his siblings and friends spent their spare time roaming the hills and nearby forests. They knew the location of all the cisterns from the time of the Maccabees (of Chanukah fame), and played in the caves where the Maccabees probably hid from the Greeks.
Zahava taught their children to “dare to be different.” While the other moshav children followed in their parents’ “holy hippie” footsteps, gravitating to Jewish rock music, Esh Kodesh forged for himself a different path. He wanted to become part of the larger Israeli society, not to live in the cultural island of Reb Shlomo followers. He chose a large yeshiva high school.
During his teenage years, he implemented a rigorous exercise program, and inspired his friends to follow him, so that they would become physically strong. Esh Kodesh himself, with a slim wiry physique, achieved what his father would call, “an awesome strength.” He could do 40 pull-ups without slowing down.
His outer strength was matched by his inner strength, withstanding the typical temptations of teenage life. Esh Kodesh developed a personal ethic: “Push yourself to the most you believe you can do. Then do more.”
Esh Kodesh was the first child of Meor Modiin to join an elite combat unit of the Israeli army. He was a fervent Zionist, believing that Jews were entitled to resettle the land that God gave them. For him, the army was an opportunity to give and to serve.
During three years in the army, including eight months at the front in Lebanon, Esh Kodesh faced challenges with calm resolution. And later, he credited the army with developing his character into a sensitive, caring person.
Once, as his unit was in the middle of a grueling night march in the mountains of Lebanon, one burly soldier carrying a 60-kilo load suddenly stopped, unloaded his pack, and refused to go further. Without a word, Esh Kodesh picked up the pack and carried it for the rest of the night.
Another time during the cold, muddy winter in Lebanon, Esh Kodesh’s unit trained a new group to replace them — to sit in the bushes without moving and watch for any passing Hizbullah terrorists. Though it was not his turn to keep guard, Esh Kodesh was suddenly woken from a sound sleep by two boys of the new unit. They told him that they had been in the army for less than six months, and they were scared. Without a moan or grimace, Esh got out of bed, put on his boots, and went with them.
At the end of basic training, the 19 soldiers in his unit were made to undergo a kind of encounter group session. They sat in a circle and took turns giving each other constructive criticism. When Esh Kodesh’s turn came, no one had anything bad to say. Finally, one fellow piped up, “For this guy, it’s too easy.” They didn’t understand that it was not easy for him, but that difficulty did not daunt Esh Kodesh.
A major problem with service in the Israeli army is that many religious boys who enter the army succumb to the influence of the army’s secular majority. Esh Kodesh entered the army wearing a kippah and left it wearing a kippah.
In fact, his fellow soldiers admired Esh Kodesh so much that the influence went in the opposite direction. After Esh Kodesh’s death, one army buddy wrote: “To a secularist like me, he showed me how beautiful and complete traditional Judaism can be, and all this in the most pleasant way.”
Another wrote: “In the beginning of our tour of duty, we were impressed by your great physical strength. As time passed, we learned to recognize your great internal strength.”
The bonds of love which Esh Kodesh forged with his fellow soldiers endured. After his murder, his unit virtually took responsibility for his wife and orphaned child. Two or three of them visit almost every day, taking their friend’s widow food shopping or to the doctor. When the baby fell ill, they called constantly, asking solicitously, “Is she drinking? Did you take her temperature?”
Esh Kodesh expected that he would get married in his late 20s, like most of his peers. But at the age of 20, he met Inbal Ofek. “She’s a really special girl,” he told his mother. “She has a deep understanding of life.”
When mutual friends introduced Esh Kodesh and Inbal, her first impression was of his inner nobility. “His inside and his outside matched. He was very handsome on the outside, and beautiful on the inside. A girl has her dreams. Usually they are not realistic. I had high expectations for a husband. He was above my expectations. He was everything. More than everything.”
They married in 1997, when they were both 22. Discharged from the army, Esh Kodesh underwent rigorous training with the General Security Service and took a job as a security guard for Israeli embassies in Europe and Asia.
But both he and Inbal missed Israel. After a year, they chose to return home. They dreamed of having a large family and eventually buying a house somewhere over the Green Line, fulfilling the Zionist dream.
Esh Kodesh had learned from his parents that dreams must be built on a foundation of hard work. To provide for his budding family, Esh Kodesh enrolled in a computer-programming course four nights a week, from 5-10 PM. From 7 AM till 4 PM every day he worked as a security guard in a Social Security office.
He dreamed of opening a computer business with Inbal so they could spend as much time together as possible. He was a romantic husband, almost obsessed with her welfare. He would telephone her several times a day, just to ask simple questions about her welfare, like: “Did you eat?”
Esh Kodesh would often tell Inbal: “If something happens to me, don’t fall apart. You have to take care of yourself. You come first.”
Their baby daughter Talya Dina was born in 1999. Esh Kodesh was delighted to be a father. He would have long conversations with the baby, explaining everything to her in adult language. At night, he would brush her few baby teeth, say “Shema Yisrael” with her, and put her to bed.
Inbal describes her husband as a sincerely religious man. “It was obvious to him that God is watching us and that He is in charge. He often said, ‘You have to deal with God, only with God.'”
The night before he was killed, he said to Inbal: “If you want something, you have to ask God. Let Him know. Talk to Him.”
Although Esh Kodesh had strong religious and political convictions, he never hated those on the other side of the fence. He would say, “They’re my people.”
“He thought the Left was wrong,” Inbal remembers, “but he was against hating any Jews. He hated no one, except the enemies of the Jewish people.”
When Esh Kodesh was assigned to the Social Security branch in the Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem, Inbal was scared. The security in the office was pitiful: no cameras, no intercom, no metal detectors. Although the office operates exclusively for the benefit of the local Arabs, dispensing child benefits (every Arab family in Israel receives a monthly child allowance) and disability payments, the mostly Arab staff had received death threats because they work for the Israeli government. One Arab worker’s car was set ablaze.
When Inbal would appeal to her husband to refuse to work there, Esh Kodesh would answer: “We’re here for the Arab population. Without us, it would be difficult for thousands of Arabs who receive benefits from our office. They’re not going to hurt us, because they need us.”
Reuven had bought a small house for his son and daughter-in-law on Moshav Meor Modiin. Although most young people starting out in life opt for independence, Esh Kodesh postponed his dream of living across the Green Line in order to be close to his parents and siblings. “He wanted to share his life with us,” his mother recalls.
On what would be the last night of Esh Kodesh’s life, Reuven stopped by to visit his son. Characteristically, Esh Kodesh walked his father home. Reuven was in the process of developing a new business. His son’s last words to him were: “Abba, I believe in you.”
Then, he came into his parents’ house and kissed his mother. “I feel that it was his way of saying goodbye,” a tearful Zahava says of her first-born son.
On October 30, 2000, Esh Kodesh was assigned to the second floor of the social security office. But one of the two guards at the entrance asked him to cover for him for just 10 minutes while he made a phone call. Esh Kodesh was always good for a favor.
At noon, an Arab man walked into the entrance, pulled out a pistol and shot Esh Kodesh in the head. The strong body fell limp. The assailant fired another bullet into his back. Emptying his gun on the other guard on duty (who survived with the loss of one eye), the terrorist fled.
On the third day of the week of mourning, little Talya Dina toddled up to her mother, who, in keeping with traditional Jewish mourning practices, was seated on a cushion on the floor, looked into Inbal’s red-rimmed eyes, and said, “No more Abba.”
Esh Kodesh Gilmore was the 12th of 44 Israelis to be killed in the current conflict. The others, too, have their stories.