Ayala Shapiro, The Town Of Speyer, And Building Homes For Jews

The fate of one little girl, Ayala Shapiro, has been on the minds of most of us here in Israel. We imagine her fight to live, wonder about her future, and hope there will be a future. We watch for updates on her condition and we pray.

Her story is known all over Israel, not so much elsewhere. Ayala is brilliant and at age 11, takes advanced math classes at Bar Ilan University. She was on her way home from just such a class when she and her father were set upon by Arab terrorists.

Could there BE any rationale for attempted murder on this sweet-faced little girl?

Ayala Shapiro, age 11. Terror victim.

One of the terrorists stood in the road to force Avner Shapiro, Ayala’s father, to slow down, while the second terrorist ran to the passenger side of the car where Ayala sat and threw a firebomb at the passenger window.

The two victims, father and daughter, managed to get out of the car and run for help. Ayala was on fire, screaming in agony. She rolled on the ground but sustained third degree burns over more than half her body. The firebomb hit her face and head first, and her airways were obstructed.

Rochel Sylvetsky, op-ed and Judaism editor at Israel National News, described her relationship to the Shapiros offering readers a glimpse into the background and history of this exceptional family. Even before I read Sylvetsky’s poignant piece, however, I had pondered the history of Ayala’s illustrious family, going back to the 11th century in Speyer, Germany.  I think about that history, in fact, every time I meet someone named Shapiro, Shapira, Schapiro, Spierer, Spiro, Spero, Safire, Sapir, and variations thereof.

Great Jews Privilege Charter of Speyer 1544 (Großes Speyrer Judenprivileg), Insertion in the confirmation of 1548, page 1 of 7 (Wikimedia Commons)

Great Jews Privilege Charter of Speyer 1544 (Großes Speyrer Judenprivileg), Insertion in the confirmation of 1548, page 1 of 7 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Bishop of Speyer invited the Jews to come live in his town, knowing they’d turn the little backwater into a city. He offered incentives and protection. He gave them a walled off section of the town for their very own (can you spell “ghetto?”) and this was all fine and dandy until 12 years later when Speyer was the first town to be attacked by the Crusaders. Eleven Jews killed. 1096.

During the Second Crusade (1146), Speyer was again a target. This time, 5,000 Jews were killed. One of the martyrs, a woman named Minna, had her tongue cut out and her ears sliced off because she refused to be baptized.

Fifty years later (1195), the corpse of a murdered Christian was found outside the city walls and the Jews played fall guy. The daughter of Rabbi Isaac bar Asher ha-Levi was one of those murdered in this new slaughter. After her burial, she was disinterred and left to hang in the marketplace with a mouse pinned to her hair. Rabbi ha-Levi paid a hefty sum of money to ransom his daughter’s body.

In 1349, the Jewish community of Speyer was wiped out altogether, decimated. The Jews were given a choice of conversion or death. Some of the luckier Jews managed to escape to nearby Heidelberg. Many more were slaughtered. All Jewish property was confiscated, including the Jewish cemetery.

You’d think the Jews would learn by now, right? But no. They came back. We know this because they were expelled from Speyer once more in 1435.

A street in the Judengasse in Speyer, Germany. (Wikimedia Commons)

A street in the Judengasse in Speyer, Germany. (Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, Jews weren’t and aren’t really welcome anywhere for very long. After their land was conquered and their Temple destroyed (twice), the Jews were forced to leave their indigenous homeland, the Land of Israel, to wander in the Diaspora. They might be welcome to settle for a time here and there, and then bigotry and jealousy would set in among the natives who would then engage in satisfying their lust for Jewish blood.

Sure enough, the Jews were allowed back into Speyer in 1616.  There were more pogroms through the years, and then of course, there was the Nazi reign of Germany in which Jews from all over Germany and other parts of Europe were systematically slaughtered in the millions. Six million, to be exact.

But back to Speyer. At some point along the way, the few Jews left in Speyer after a murder spree, took the name of the town as their surname, to memorialize the history of their town and their people. The name evolved, turning into Spero, Shapiro, and many other variations as well. Shapiro is probably the most common variation and is certainly a common Jewish surname. The name is so common that it offers a poignant lesson in the resilience of the Jewish people.

The Judenbad, a medieval  mikveh in Speyer, Germany (photo credit Chris 73 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Chris_73 Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page)

The Judenbad, a medieval mikveh in Speyer, Germany (photo credit Chris 73 Wikimedia Commons)

All the Shapiros you know have their roots in the history of Speyer, Germany. That would include Ayala Shapiro. The thought comforts me. Because even though the enemy may slaughter thousands and millions of my people, they will never win.

It’s just the way it is.

They boot us out of our country, and then bandy us about all over the world. We come back to build in our land and they tell us we have no right. Helen Thomas tells us to go back to Poland, Germany, Russia, WHERE THEY SLAUGHTERED US.

Jen Psaki says we have no right to build homes in our land.

I’m not listening. The Shapiros among my people will win out, survive, cope with scarred lives, and build anew.

President Obama says we have to withdraw to the 1967 lines. Give more and more of our historic land to the enemy to give them a territorial advantage over us, the Jews.

And I say no. Talk to the hand.

Yesterday, I read something that infuriated me. Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, approved building plans for El Matan, the outpost where the Shapiro family lives in Samaria. This is the pittance we are offered by our representatives, a sop. Because Avner and his daughter Ayala were burned on their way to El Matan, where they live, the government rewards them with building permits.

There is a de facto building freeze in Judea and Samaria, owing to the Obama Administration’s distaste for Jews building homes in their indigenous territory. Israeli leaders don’t want any heat coming down on them, so though there is no technical building freeze in place in these areas, they simply don’t give out building permits. Voila, people are forced to live elsewhere.

As if it isn’t bad enough that our leadership, supposedly composed of right-wing representatives, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, prevents Jews from building homes in Judea and Samaria, they, our Jewish leaders, have turned the few building permits allowed, into a form of revenge against terror.

This is just wrong. On so many levels. Jews should be building everywhere in their own land. If we wanted to be in a place where outsiders ruled over us, slaughtering us on occasion, expelling us every century or so, and confiscating our property, we could have stayed in places like, well, SPEYER, GERMANY.

To have this state of affairs in our own country, this culture where building homes for our families has become highly politicized, is obscene.

Jews should be able to build homes wherever they want in their own land. Any place where Jews can document their indigenous history, including in Judea and Samaria, should without question be a place where they can purchase property and build homes. It isn’t clear to me why this is considered somehow an extreme right point of view.

And in fact, it stymies me to see PM Netanyahu labeled as extreme right by, for instance, the Obama Administration. Bibi’s policy has been, “They murder. We build.”

He allows building only as a response to terror. Jews have to die in order to build homes?? This is the extreme right wing???

Nuts to that. I don’t want to enable that. Which leads me to my current predicament: elections.

Everyone says I have to vote. But I don’t want to vote. I vote for the right and I get this leftist government policy in which building homes for Jews becomes a cudgel to punish Arabs.

The Arabs target us with rocks, cars, and missiles, even here in our own indigenous territory. How is this different from living in the Diaspora if we don’t make it stop? If we don’t build and persist in carving out meaningful lives in our own land?

It makes me sick. Sick to my stomach.

They, my friends, say if I don’t vote I’ll strengthen the left. But what is “left?” The left says it straight: We will withdraw from our land and give it to the enemy. We won’t allow building in Judea and Samaria.

So how is this different from our status quo?

They say that if Bibi has a strong right coalition, he can more easily enact right wing policy.

I don’t believe it. I think he could have enacted right wing policy all along. I believe he could take care of Iran. And I believe he can do a better job of protecting people like Ayala Shapiro. A little girl whose neighbors get to build homes only because she was set on fire by Arabs.

And not because of her proud family history of preserving its faith and spark of Jewish life no matter what, both in the Diaspora in places like Speyer, Germany, and at home in El Matan, in Samaria.


Varda Epstein

A third-generation-born Pittsburgher on her mother’s mother’s side, Varda moved to Israel 36 years ago and is a crazy political animal who spams people with right wing political articles on Facebook in between raising her 12 children and writing about education as the communications writer at Kars for Kids a Guidestar gold medal charity.

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