אליוס פז

Eliyos Paz ZT"L – Our Shaliach, Friend and Brother 

Eliyos Paz ZT"L – Our Shaliach, Friend and Brother 

Arthur Bondarev (Schlomo-Benjamin)

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There are no words, that would merely satisfy to portray an accurate picture of the uniqueness Eliyos ZT’’L embodied. The written memories are yet a humble attempt to capture – with Hashems help – the few wonderful moments, at which I had the honor to be present during Eliyos’s lifetime. I hope the reader will grasp though my eyes the greatness Eliyos brought in my life and the lives of many other people. 

My first encounter with people called Shlichim

As a child of Jewish Soviet immigrant to Germany in the beginning of the 90th, I grew up in a city in west Germany, called Düsseldorf. The unfortunate circumstances of the Soviet regime removed my parents violently from any knowledge on proper Jewish life or even the slightest connection to tradition. Thus, one of the only things I knew by the age of 15 was, that I am Jewish, because my mother is Jewish, because her mother was Jewish. C'est tout!

The first connection to a Jewish institution I had through a friend of mine, who invited me to join him to the Synagogue and the Jewish youth center Kadima in Düsseldorf. This is where I first met Ortal and Hagit, the Shlichot of Lehawa (the name of Bnei Akiva in Germany back then). It was not until then, that they taught me first about all the strange things Jews do, as for instance, not shaking hands between man and women, not using any electricity on Saturday and putting on some black boxes on the arm and head. Things, which I’ve never heard of before 2008. 

Meeting Eliyos for the first time

I remember Eliyos very well by his trademark: The unique hat he always had with him. Also singing this German song “Zwischen Zug und Bahnsteig” after Hawdala. It was not really a song, rather the sentence, which sounded every time you departed from a train in German, saying “Please pay attention to the gap between train and platform”. This sentence was so super ridiculous, that Eliyos attempted, quite successfully, to compose a song from it.

Wearing his hat and singing this song, in the pursuit of connecting all the people around him in a kind, funny and exciting way to what he believed – this is how I remember Eliyos, when he first visited Düsseldorf together with Noa, Hagid and Eviyatar before Chanukka 2008. It was then, when he not only made me laugh, but also curious about being a religious person and yet, combining it with being just “normal”. Back than the definition of normal for me, was basically everything, which was not Jewish and the personification of the term “religious” was the Rabbi of the shul. Thus, seeing someone who doesn’t wear a suit, who is young and greatly inspiring, and yet religious, was someone I didn’t except to meet at all. 

Recalling this moment, I would say, that this was the exact moment where Eliyos started to change my life. It was at that Chanukka visit, where he invited me – almost in a minor sentence – to Berlin, where he was stationed for his Shlichut. At first, I thought, this might be some kind of complimentary sentence. After all, I didn’t know that Jews, but especially Israelis have this unique nature of inviting other Jews, even strangers, and connecting to them. 

It turned out, that his invitation was very much valid, since he took care of all the logistics and got me eventually to Berlin for a Shabbat. To me, this was absolutely amazing, and I couldn’t believe that there are people, who not only would pay for my ticket, but also take care of me for a whole Shabbes, which Eliyos did. He showed me around and took me to the prayers and Seudot, explaining to me everything from scratch. One song I remember very vividly, “Ma Yedidut”, which for the first time I heard from Eliyos. When all the people at the table reached the chorus, they jumped up in a special move and laugh all together. I remember it so well, because this was one of the times, when my anyway little perspective on being Jewish, changed from the old shtetl-Jidden portrayed on black and white pre-war pictures, to a living connection. It was then, that through the care and the extensive time Eliyos dedicated to me, I felt the part in me, that has been there for generations, yet undiscovered. I felt that I am missing out on something, which should be so familiar to me. 

This feeling intensified over the next few times I came to Berlin or met Eliyos in a different place in Germany. Up until the point, that before leaving Germany at the end of his Shlichut, he invited me to come to Israel and to visit him at his home. This time I already knew, Eliyos is not joking around. He really wants me to come and visit him.  

He came and stayed!

I can’t exactly recall when it was, but Eliyos once visited Düsseldorf. I very much asked him to stay over in my parents and my apartment. Looking back, it must have been very challenging for him to accept it, because he very well understood the kashrut level of our kitchen and other challenges, which could arise. Yet, he didn’t decline my invitation and stayed over in our apartment, which until this day my parents really like to recall. My mother always spoke of Eliyos as the Israeli, who is very polite, religious and educated. I guess she was very impressed with the pieces of Russian, which Eliyos had ready to ease any situation in a positive and amusing way. 

I remember Eliyos surprised face and gratefulness, when he actually saw, that we got some plastic dished for him and some food. We didn’t really know what to buy and it turned out, that actually none of the food was actually permissible. Two things from this situation impressed me up until this day. Eliyos understood, that we acted out of our best intention. Even thou it turned out, that we were able to offer him only fruit, he showed enormous gratitude for just the effort. The other thing, which impressed us, was his consistency with his Tora obligation to eat kosher. This was something which was unknown to my mother and me. Since he was able to explain his position in a pleasant and sensitive way, we respected his decision not to eat, even more. 

In this instance, I also recall another imprint Eliyos had on my view at that time, that we met. At some point during the day we were going to somewhere with the tram. Something bothered me about Eliyos, that I associated with the white fringes he was wearing. As long as I can recall, he was always used to wear his Zizit on the outside in Germany. I asked him in the tram, if he doesn’t feel strange wearing them so publicly. He responded to me, that first, he feels comfortable going like this because it always reminds him, that he has purpose here. Second, he feels, that if Jews will see his Zizit and will enquire him about it – as I did in that moment – a wonderful opportunity opens up to him, to tell them, that being a proud Jews on the outside, is a reflection of being a proud Jews in the inside.

Later, when I started to wear my Kippa and Zizit permanently, I always remembered this situation in the tram. That very moment, he turned the mirror on me, speaking to me “you are bothered by my Zizit and I am not. It must be, that you are bothered, because you see something lacking in yourself, which needs to be explored.” Which indeed was true, since only there I started to discover, with Eliyos’s help, what it meant to be a proud Jew. 

Erez ha’Kodesh and the loving care of Eliyos’s home 

Little did Eliyos and I knew, the only reason, my parents allowed me to come visit Israel for the very first time was, because he caused such a big impression on my parents. To put in in the words of my mother: “If we let you go visit Israel, Eliyos would actually be the only one, who we would trust to take care of you.”

Next thing I remember, is being on a four hours flight to Israel with so many expectations and without any knowledge of getting around in this unknown country. Thou, it was already late at night, Ortal, Hagid, Noa and Eliyos picked me up. With a warm bear hug, he told me how extremely excited he is to see me in Israel. 

Looking back, I think a part of his dream to be a Shaliach for his people and to inspire people for Judaism and Israel came true at this point. His mother, Liada Paz, has told me later, that Eliyos was so excited about my visit, that he was going around saying “for the forst time a Chanich from Germany is coming to visit me in Israel.”

“I got a red Ferrari, to pick you up,” was Eliyos’s way of joking about the somewhat elderly car. He always used to joke about that car. At one instance, we left the car near the Zion Gate in Jerusalem and I asked him, if he closed it. He told me “What for? The Ganev’s of that area have better options to go for.” 

It was in this car, that for the first time in my life I saw the overview over Jerusalem and the Har HaBayit when we passed through Jerusalem in the middle of the night. I remember this as clear as if it was yesterday. Eliyos told me that this is the place, towards where all Jewish thought crave. I felt the excitement so deep and it was just a beginning of my two weeks stay in Israel.

When we arrived in Mitzpe Jericho it was already past midnight and as far as I remember, everyone was already asleep. Eliyos showed me the room, where I would be staying and invited me to join him on the rooftop. It was the time of Sukkot and I could hear sleeping noises from the Sukka in the garden. He explained to me, that the men sleep in the Sukka and that if I like to, I can join him and family this night; but if I feel more comfortable to sleep inside, it would be perfectly fine. 

I think this was another of Eliyos’s outstanding qualities. When conveying something he believed in, he never forced one to accept his opinion. He was always ready find the right balance between the feelings of another person and the amount out a Jewish insight or experience, he would direct to the person.

The landscape around Mitzpe at night took my attention and I didn’t notice, that Eliyos has disappeared for a short moment. When he returned, he had two Goldstar beers in his hands, passing me one with a smile and a half-joking excuse, that it’s not a German beer quality, but instead real gold quality beer. Saying l’chaim and tasting my first sip of an Israel beer, Eliyos pointed into the direction of the desert and explained me, that Yehushua bin Nun and the Jewish Nation entered Israel through that desert after the passing of Moshe Rabbeinu.

 This was Eliyos’s informal way of connecting me and so many other Chanichim to our heritage; by simply bringing us to the realization that we all have the same roots and those roots are as present in Israel as nowhere else. 

It was not until the next morning – spending the night in the Sukka – that I indeed realized, how big his family is. As a single child to my parents, I wasn’t used to so many people at home and it was a totally new experience for me. At this time, I also realized, that the majority of Eliyos’s 10 siblings were still living at home and that the parents of Eliyos, Rav Baruch and Lidia Paz, regardless of the situation, gave me a single room in their house. Moreover, in the morning I was welcomed with such tremendous amount of kindness, love and excitement from both, the parents and the kids, that I really was overwhelmed; not only that day, but through my stay and during all my future stays with the Paz family. 

During the next two weeks, Eliyos took me around and showed me so many places and facets of the land, the history and the people, that it was simply stunning. He was the first person to take me to the old city of Jerusalem and connecting me to our most sacred place, the Kotel. 

Another day, we woke up and Eliyos told me, that we are going to visit a place, that every Jew should have been to. That day, Noa and Eliyos, took me to a city, I haven’t heard of before. He explained to me not only the security situation, but the importance of the Me'arat ha’Machpela in Hevron, taking me around and telling me stories of our Avot and Imot. He connected this experience to the account of the six-day war and the reentering of the Jews to the Machpela. Later we also visited the Kever of Ruth and Yishai. 

One of the things Eliyos loved to do and introduce me as well to, was to connect to the land through hikes and being in the nature. We took sleeping bags, some food and went by bus to the dead sea. When we arrived, it was already evening. He prayed and returned, telling me: “Hey Arthur, I have a small surprise for you.” He took out some hamburger meat and told me, that we are going to do a BBQ. At first, I was very joyful; then I realized, that we don’t have anything to make the hamburgers on. Eliyos looked at me, with the ‘don’t worry, I have been to the army’ look and started to make a bonfire between two stones.

I do realize, that telling all of this, might sound very natural to an Israel, but from the eyes of a Jew growing up in German, all of this was an exceptional experience. And Eliyos understood this very well. He understood the state of mind of the person he was dealing with – in my feeling, at all times. 

Later, during the meetings of the Bnei Akiva Germany board, all of us where talking many times around the topic presented to us without getting to a conclusion. Often, when the discussion seemed stuck, Eliyos stepped in with his ability to put everyone's ideas in one frame, thus making us feel understood and connected to his solution.

Hachshara

After returning to Germany with so many unforgettable impressions I was absolutely sure, that I need to come back to Israel for a longer period. Here Eliyos presented to me the opportunity to go for 10 months on the Hachshara program of Bnei Akiva, which he started to be in charge of. I presented this idea to my parents and, thou they loved Eliyos very much, this was a little bit too much for them to take. Eliyos tried everything to convince my parents to let me go to Israel. And fortunately enough, at some point my parents gave in to this crazy idea of us. It was such a moment of relief, that I even captured the second, that I told Eliyos about it on Whatsapp. One and a half month after this message I was back again at Eliyos’s home, starting Hachshara soon enough. 

Since Eliyos was running the Hachshara program for us, we got to see him quite often and there are many positive memories connected to that time. However, I want to recall, three memories I haven’t shared too often. 

At some point during the Hachshara year, when we were staying in Jerusalem, I had emotionally a very difficult time I was going through. The scope of the different experiences and circumstances in Israel, which I was not familiar with from Germany, gave me the immediate wish to return to Germany. I had the feeling, no one could understand my situation and thus, I went to speak to Eliyos in the Bnei Akiva building. The moment I started to explain to Eliyos my situation, I couldn’t help myself and tears broke out all over my face. Eliyos was able to grasp the situation within a split second and just embraced me with love and understanding. He understood, that it wasn’t really my wish to go back, but that this was subconsciously my way of expressing that I need to talk about the feelings I had. 

However, the first thing he told to me – by this, taking all my tension away – is, that he will organize my way home, if I truly want it. It wasn’t important for Eliyos, that such a decision would on the counterpart mean, that there are less people in his group and thus also fewer external funds to run the program for the rest of the group. For him it was important, how everyone of us feels. In this specific situation nothing was more important to him, than to help me out. 

There was no Hachshara. No group. No Bnei Akiva. Just Eliyos and Arthur on such a personal level, that at the end, this moment bounded us so deeply together. I think we talked for about two hours and his way to be empathic – which I already knew from before – was to tell his army stories. Those stories, which he felt were in a sense converging the same situation as mine. This was truly amazing and I don’t know how, but he managed to help me to turn from not being understood, to going out from the Bnei Akiva office completely energized to continue my stay in the program and with the feeling, that I don’t have to carry all my worries alone, but can share this luggage with Eliyos, who understood me in a unique indescribable way. 

During our stay in the Yeshiwa in Jerusalem, we were faced with the difficult personal decision to keep one or two days of Yom Tow. Some of us decided to keep one day, but three of us, knowing, that we will return to chuz la’aretz after Hachshara, decided to keep two days. Eliyos surprised us this second day of Chag, by coming to the Yeshiwa. He took the three of us aside and asked us to join him on the balcony. To our second surprise, he had a BBQ arranged for us, with meat he bought himself. When we prepared the food and were eating all together, he told us, that he was super proud of us. We asked him, why to be proud of us? After all, we are the once, who decided to leave Israel and this is the reason why we keep two days. 

He told us something really amazing, which I heard from him many times later on as well. He told us, that his vision for our group is not, that everyone will do Aliya the next day Hachshara ends. Which would be nice, but not so realistic. Rather, it is of much greater importance to create an everlasting relationship between us and Israel. Meaning, that even if we decide to leave Israel after Hachshara, we will be able to be advocates for Israel and be leaders in our local communities. Thus, he told us, keeping two days of Yom Tow shows on our side a willingness to be true to ourselves and to act even against the mainstream of the guys, who decided to keep one day. 

Little did Eliyos know, how right he was with his view. Up to this day, those who returned, live with the knowledge, that they have a place in Israel. Besides, all of us became strong advocates in our circles. Personally, for me, I understood after returning to Germany, that I will be back in Israel and will also life there at some point. This is what Eliyos always intended for us: To create the feeling, that we can return and immediately reconnect to our home.

The third moment, I like to recall, was about two weeks before the Hachshara program would end. At this point we were stationed in the Kibbutz Ein Hanaziv. At the last night of our Kibbuz time, I unfortunately did a mistake, which I deeply regret up to this time. As a consequence of the foolish incident, some property got damaged. What was even more tragic, was the fact, that all the Hachshara groups have noticed that incident. This caused must embarrassment to all our group and at the point in time I really didn’t know what to do. I felt, like the whole world was turning their back on me, even Eliyos!

After that incident, I went to see Eliyos and to express my deepest regret. He took me in his car and drove with me, while I told him how deeply sorry I am. I could see in his eyes and by the fact that he was just listening and didn’t response to me at first, that he was deeply hurt. He really didn’t expect it to go this way, the least from me. The next reaction I will never forget in my life. With the clear pain and disappointment in his face, he turned to me and told me: “Arthur, there is a teaching of Rabbi Yona of the basic four steps of T’shuva. The first step he describes is to realize, that you did a mistake and to say it out loud. This is what you just did. Now let us work out the rest together.” 

The power of his simple words just broke through my heart and my soul. I did except everything, but this. Instead of putting his anger and disappointment first, Eliyos put his feelings back and decided to help me facing this difficult situation.

We worked out a plan, how I could shift things right and despite his feelings towards this situation, he continued to support me. For instance, he wrote me on 06.06.2012 after asking how I feel: “O may men… Hope you feel better and have a good day and that things will get better and better”. Before talking to my parents, he wrote me “Don't worry I will calm them down” and “My men, hope you feel better”. Later he told me to speak to the guys from the group and after I did, he wrote me on 08.06.2012: “Arthuuuuur I got your message I'm very very proud of you. keep going this way and you will finish up with more respect, you got even before this whole story. I'm sure this is a very very very hard time for you. I think you are doing the right things. I read the letter to the kibbuz. it is really a nice letter that touches ones hart. I will translate it in the morning and send it to Elchi. I feel that in terms of the group the hardest part is behind you. I'm sending you understanding and strength from Mizpe Yericho. Have a good peaceful night.”

I have never in my life met a person, who would support another person, with such uplifting words, even thou he was disappointed from my actions. In the end, he helped me to get the whole group together, so that I could express my regret to them as well and he managed the whole situation, so that we as a group indeed went out from this mistake even with more respect for than before in front of all of Bnei Akiva. In the way Eliyos acted by setting aside his own feelings, he uplifted the spirit of the whole group, saved the situation and made any effort, not to embarrass me even further for my mistake.

 This picture we took after the whole incident, where he even invited me to stay at his home, to recover from this burden. 

Our Hachshara Group: Shalhevet – Neriya 2011/12

Return to Germany

After I returned to Germany, Eliyos and I continued to deepen our friendship. Thou, we didn’t have a chance to see each other frequently, the bond between us grew notwithstanding. Many times, we couldn’t talk for a month or two, but the moment we reunited on the phone, by messages or in person, we again felt this strong connection between us. Back in 2015, I visited Israel for work purposes and was invited by Eliyos to come to a Bnei Akiva Gala evening, where hundreds of participants and BA associates gathers. We had this picture together and he posted it on Facebook writing on the 13.01.2015: “Those little moments that give you motivation! With a brother!”

Eliyos transformed me from being the Jewish boy in Düsseldorf, to his Chanich and later to his friend and brother. I have never experienced such deep closeness and feeling of gratitude having such a friend and brother. And through his guidance in so many instances also grew in spiritual and personal matters, as well as in the understanding of people and relationships.

I will, with Hashems help, recount more little and wonderful stories of Eliyos and his uniquely loving way. Thou, my heart and soul are painfully hurting, and I started to understand the loss for this world when Hashem called for the soul of Eliyos, all what remains are the memories and how we can learn for the way Eliyos lived his life. How he cared for others and how he pursued his believes. As for my part, I genuinely hope to life up to his ways someday and merit to sit by his side in the world to come. 

Arthur Bondarev (Schlomo-Benjamin), Konstanz, 03.05.2020

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