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Remembering Avi Gross Schaefer: Student, Soldier, Future Peacemaker

Remembering Avi Gross Schaefer: Student, Soldier, Future Peacemaker

Photo: Bill Aron Photography

Avi Gross Schaefer, a 21-year-old veteran of the Israel Defense Forces and a freshman at Brown University, was killed almost instantly February 12, after being hit by a car driven by a drunken driver. Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer and his wife, Laurie Gross, a prominent artist, have lost a son, and the wider world lost someone who was primed to make a difference as a peacemaker.

I knew him from the day he was born, and I watched him develop over the years into the young man he was still in the process of becoming. He had attended Camp Ramah in California, and he and his twin brother, Yoav, decided to enter the IDF after spending a semester of their junior year in Israel as part of the Reform movement’s program at Eisendrath International Exchange High School. Schaefer was charismatic, and people young and old flocked to him. While he always appeared assured and confident, he also possessed the ability to reassure and calm those who came within his orbit.

Schaefer’s college application to Brown captures the essence of who he was, and his essay speaks to his character and his aspirations. He wrote:

Schaefer’s nuanced understanding of the complexity and tragedy that marked the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians made him mature beyond his years. His commitment to principle was exhibited powerfully in the remarkable letter he wrote to the student newspaper at Brown this past fall, in response to his experience at a meeting of the student organization Common Ground, a group that ostensibly sought peace in that region of the world:

This letter brought him much attention on campus. He acted as he did because his conscience compelled him to promote reconciliation, even as he worked, as a soldier, to ensure the survival and safety of his people.

In a letter he wrote this past fall, Schaefer further explained what informed and motivated him:

Following his death, Brown University President Ruth Simmons wrote of Schaefer in a letter to the campus community:

Avi Gross Schaefer was the best of our youth. He understood that God calls us to the task of creating community, and because he was true to that task, his life shines out in an instructive and commanding way; his memory is a blessing.

Rabbi David Ellenson is president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the I.H. and Anna Grancell Professor of Jewish Religious Thought.

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David Ellenson

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Remembering Avi Gross Schaefer: Student, Soldier, Future Peacemaker

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