On April 1st, Rabbi Avichai Rontzki passed away. Rontzki was 66 years old. He is survived by his wife, six children and his grandchildren.
It was in 2016, when he went for medical preparations to altruistically donate a kidney that he discovered that he had colorectal cancer.
Rabbi Avichai Rontzki served in the position of IDF Chief Military Rabbi from 2006 to 2010, with a rank of Brigadier General.
When people think of the position of “rabbi” they do not often picture a warrior but Rabbi Rontzki was a warrior before he became a rabbi. He served in an elite IDF unit for his compulsory military service, and in the Paratroopers Brigade, became an officer and served as a company commander on the southern front with Egypt during the Yom Kippur war in 1973.
In 1980, he established the Hesder Yeshiva in Elon Moreh. In 1984, he was part of the group that established the settlement of Itamar near Shechem and founded the local yeshiva which he ran until July 2016.
As IDF Chief Rabbi, Rontzki expanded the mandate of his unit from supervising kashrut and providing religious services to a much more active role in the army, including increasing the number of battalion rabbis and expanding the IDF Jewish Awareness Department which conducts educational activities in IDF combat units to help soldiers deepen their connection with their Jewish roots.
Listening to the people who knew him speak about him makes me feel a great loss.
His son Moshe delivered a eulogy at his funeral: “I admired you as a great father. A rabbi for students at the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, a commander and mythological friend for his soldiers. You were so sensitive, you explained to us when we were still children to look at the path on which we are going, to lift up our feet to make sure we don’t step on insects.”
His friends say he made soul connections with people, without a conscious effort to do so, he made a difference because he did what his heart told him to do. It seems that Rabbi Rontzki kept in touch with numerous bereaved families, not because his position made it his duty (it’s not) but because he cared about them.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett described visiting Rontzki on the Thursday before he died. The last thing Rontzki did was to request that Bennett convey his final wish to the Nation. He wanted one thing – that when we meet someone during the day, pass someone in the hall, ride in the same elevator etc, we smile and say “hello”.
What a simple, yet profound request.
Bennett said he would try to fulfill this request. I will too. Will you?