Md. friends of his family mourn for `sweet child'

Boy called `adventurous

' parents known as caring, committed to action

May 10, 2001|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- When Yaakov "Koby" Mandell was a young boy in Maryland, he loved to hike in the parks in Silver Spring and the trails along the Potomac.

"He was adventurous," said Linda Zurndorfer, whose son attended the Hebrew Day School of Montgomery with Koby.

As she considered the circumstances that led to Koby's death -- he had gone hiking Tuesday near the Jewish settlement in the West Bank where he lived -- she said that was clearly the young man she knew: "It sounds very much like Koby."

Yesterday, the 13-year-old boy became one of the latest victims of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Israeli authorities said that Koby and a teen-age friend were bludgeoned with rocks, their bodies left in a desert cave near the settlement of Tekoa. Authorities said the bodies were found at daybreak, with the walls of the cave smeared with blood. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blamed Palestinians for the boys' deaths.

The news shocked and saddened the Mandell family's Maryland friends. Koby's father, Seth, a rabbi, had worked as director of Hillel, the Jewish student organization, at the University of Maryland for five years, before the family moved to Israel in 1996.

Hearing the boy's name on the radio early yesterday, Zurndorfer screamed and pulled her car to the side of the road, she said.

"It's just pain and sadness and horror," said Roz Kram, who remembers a younger Koby playing at the Hillel center.

The boy's death cast a somber mood there. Festivities at a planned barbecue and end-of-school-year awards' ceremony were interrupted for a memorial service.

"I speak because it's never been this close before," said Temima Fruchter, a student and former neighbor of the Mandells in Silver Spring, who remembered the times that Koby and his siblings would spill into her family's driveway, Popsicles in hand.

"Koby was somebody's brother, somebody's son. But this time, he was also my neighbor, my young friend," she said.

After Fruchter spoke, two memorial candles were lit and two guitarists led the 80 people, most of them students, at the service in a singing of the Hebrew song "Israel Will Live."

Rabbi Mandell, director of the Hillel at College Park from 1991 to 1996, was known for easy-going ways and for mixing with the college students, playing pingpong and basketball.

"He's not your stereotypical orthodox rabbi," said 22-year-old Dan Schulder, a Maryland student who said he studied with the rabbi last year in Israel. "He's a fun guy."

Seth Mandell's wife, Sherri, taught in the professional writing program in the university's education department during the family's years in Maryland. The former program director, Shirley W. Logan, said Sherri Mandell demonstrated the importance of her religion to her students. "That was conveyed to her students as a model -- if you're committed to something, you act upon it. And maybe that has to do with her decision to go" to Israel.

"Like a lot of Jews, he feels a strong love for the land of Israel," Alan Spiegel, a 22-year-old biochemistry major from Bethesda, said of the rabbi. "He wants to live in the places that are nearest and dearest to our history."

The family lived for a time in the West Bank settlement of Efrat before moving to Tekoa, a smaller, more isolated community.

Arthur Sapper, a Silver Spring man whose son, Mordechai, was a close friend of Koby's at the Hebrew Day School, said his son visited the family in Efrat three years ago. "They played a lot of basketball," he said.

"Koby's just a sweet child, a really good-natured soul."

Tuesday, Koby and a 14-year-old friend, Yosef Ishran, skipped school to take a walk near Tekoa. "As children will do, as children should do, they were out hiking in a nearby cave when they were brutally attacked and killed," Scott Brown, executive director of the Hillel at College Park, said at last night's service. "What a brutal and senseless loss of two very beautiful lives."

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