Jan 30, 2007

Ami Popper.. Guest Post

The following is a guest post by a frequent reader and commenter, whatsinaname.

The topic is Ami Popper. In case you are not familiar with the case, Ami Popper in 1990 killed 7 Palestinian Arabs. He was sentenced to life in prison and that was later reduced to 40 years based on his good behavior. Ami Popper was recently on a type of weekend furlough and went to Eilat for a weekend vacation with his family. He was involved in a car accident and his wife and two of his children were killed. I have heard some conspiracy theories about what happened, but nothing good enough, or interesting enough to post.

Whatsinaname knows the family from Har Nof and had the following thoughts he wished to share with the rest of us. Enjoy. Any changes I made were only for editing grammar.
My thoughts about Ami Popper

The following is a mixture of my own thoughts and various facts that I have learned and picked up. I hope it is all true, and I think it is. If any of it is not, I hope someone will correct me.

In the year 1990 a chiloni man by the name of Ami Popper went and brutally murdered about seven arab men who were waiting on the side of the highway. When asked why he did this, he gave two answers. His second answer was that as a child he was raped by one of the arabs. He was immediately given a life sentence, and sent to jail.

In jail he was what is commonly termed “well behaved” thereby earning him good treatment during his term. At some point he was sent to the prison used by religious inmates and slowly began to change himself. Within the course of only a few years he went from a convicted chiloni prisoner to a well behaved religious prisoner. He studied under some rabbaim, one of which was very close to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita.

Around his third year of his term, a woman, who’s family were signed members of the K”CH movement, meant with Ami Popper. Their relationship blossomed and soon they considered marriage - him behind bars, she giving him a second chance at life. With the blessing of Rav Chaim himself, the two wed and began a somewhat unusual family life. Due to his continuing good behavior, he built the trust of the justice system, and his sentence was lowered to 40 years and was soon allowed to visit his family outside the prison for hours, sometimes days at a time. Soon enough their first child was born, a boy, and Rav Chaim came to the prison to be sandak for the new baby.

But life was not so sweet for Sara Popper. She raised the three boys herself, and it was not an easy feat. The boys were very active children, and she herself had a lot of trouble with the life she laid out. I once saw her in har nof; she was terrified because some men were yelling at her and calling her names. I’ve heard her sons quoted as saying how difficult a time they had at school because of their father and his situation. Nevertheless, he continued to come home, she did her best and the family blossomed into 3 children and Sara and Ami doing all they could to keep it together.

I met Sara 2 or 3 times, each time the stress was visible in her eyes and her situation was clearly not a peaceful one. However, I also saw something else in her. A strength and kindness rooted deep behind the defense shields she always had to fight to keep up. Before his last release from prison, Sara made an order from the local butcher for meat for shabbos on Wednesday, but looking forward even more to a much needed vacation with her whole family the following day. She did not make it back the next morning.

I’ve heard a lot of questions about whether she was buckled, whether the children were, why was he driving if his license was expired? These questions don’t really matter though, because when Hakadosh Baruch Hu is ready to take his children home, He brings them, regardless of who is driving the car.

I’ve heard chilonim at work talk about the irony of the situation. Ami killing arabs and then killing his own wife and child. It is a fearsome analogy to make, much less to say it in the kitchen of an office next to the water cooler.

However, the more I think about this horrible tragedy the more one question kept arising in my head. Why would a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, want to marry someone locked in jail?

I think that the answer is the fact that we all get a second chance. Ami was a young kid, and he made a mistake (I don’t know if he admits to that or not). But somehow I have a gut feeling that had he been frum when he was younger, I doubt he would have done the same thing. Sara Popper gave this man a second chance to live another life. Albeit not the paradise we all dream of, but the opportunity to raise a family teaching Torah values.

Oh yes, I can hear some of you crying, what kind of values comes from a murderer? But I know what kind of values. The kind of values that teach your children not to make your mistakes. If we never learn from our sins, how can we grow? Sara Popper, in my eyes, did an incredible chesed that I can only dream about. She sacrificed her own life to give a chance to someone else.

Sadly there are only two boys left, but they are now going to a wonderful family. One, from what I hear is one the most giving and Ahavas Chesed families in Har nof. Fitting isn’t it? At the funeral I was told that Sara’s brother spoke of the great hardships she had in her life and noted that she is in a better place now. I have no doubt, and I pray that she has paved enough of the path that her children and others can learn that there is always an opportunity for a second chance, to anyone.


  1. Pretend for a moment that the story is very similar to the one you posted, but that instead of a Jew who killed Arabs, we were talking about an Arab who killed Jews.

    If almost every other detail regarding the story were identical, would you still feel the same way?

    I'm not trying to be harsh, here... I think this is wonderfully written, and the theme of second chances is a powerful and moving one. It's hard not to be sympathetic.

    But there are some sins - some acts - so egregious, a person doesn't deserve a second chance. Murder of 7 is one of those things.

    And I think if the story were reversed, a lot of us would be MUCH less sympathetic to giving an Arab who murdered 7 Jews a second chance to get married and start a family.

    Just some food for thought.

  2. I hear you. But we are Jews, not Arabs. They sympathize with their people and we sympathize with ours.

    Also, he never called for Popper's freedom based on anything he wrote about the story. he did not see free Ami Popper because his kids are orphans, blah blah blah. He did not say Popper did nothing wrong because he only killed Arabs. He just told over a human interest story as he sees it up close. Popper is sitting in jail and getting the punishment he deserves for his actions.

  3. They sympathize with their people and we sympathize with ours.

    One of the things that differentiates our people is the tremendous value we put on human life - *all* human life and not just the lives of our people.

    I understand the author isn't calling for Popper's freedom, and I realize this is a human interest story. I guess what I'm saying is that Popper should not have been given the freedom to start a family in the first place. I feel like he's been given far more of a second chance than a murderer of 7 deserves. It's always tough to find that balance between justice and mercy. This is one case where I feel that (given the nature of the crime and number of victims) there was too much compassion and not enough justice.

  4. but that is a basic right that any prisoner for any crime has legally. Heck even Yigal Amir was recently given that right.

    Are you suggesting that the legal system needs to take away the rights of prisoners? I do think that prisoners have too many rights. I think the prison system should be much harsher on criminals and murderers. Sometimes we read abotu what goes in in prison and it seems more like a camp than a prison.

    But until they do strip prisoners of rights, allowing him tostart a family was not a matter of compassion, rather one of legal rights.

  5. I received these two e-mails, relevant to this article:
    1. Names to daven for:
    Please pray and say mishabayrachs in shul for the father and two sons who are in the Beersheva Hospital in critical to moderate condition:
    Father, Ami Chizkiyahu ben Rachel, (in his 30s), who underwent unsuccessful back surgery Thursday, in critical condition;
    Yisrael Meir ben Sarah Gittel, about 10 years old, and
    Avraham Yitzchak ben Sarah Gittel, about 8 years old.

    2. Last week just before Shabbat, the Popper family was in a fatal car crash in which the mother and the youngest child were niftar. I don't have an update on the father and two sons who survived, but a friend of the family feels it is important that all know -- everyone in the car had on seat belts. Evidently at least 1 or 2 major newspapers reported, incorrectly, that they weren't belted:

    regarding our past conversation: I spoke to Sara Gittel Z"L's brother Lenny regarding the seat belt issue. As anyone close to Sara knew, she was quite demanding that a car would not be started till all were in seat belts. We spoke about this at the levaya that it made no sense... the news articles that the children weren't belted??? Lenny said that one of the boys in fact had to have stomach surgery because the seat belt had so gut damaged him. To disseminate such loshen h'ara is criminal and I am writing to the press to print retractions. -- Gittel

  6. One must realize that Torah Law prescribes a death penalty for murder, but only when properly witnessed, and the witnesses must warn the assailant, and he must then acknowledge, "even so, I will do it."
    But in today's world, a Jewish "murderer" sits in jail, and tries to change himself, by doing Teshuva.
    How many Arab murderers were released from jail and DIDN'T go back to murder and other terrorist acts??? One who is kind to the cruel, ends up being cruel to the kind -- Chazal, our Sages of Blessed Memory.

  7. One theme I keep hearing over and over (in my circles at least) is the fact that all the arabs need to do is kidnapp someone, and they get 250 of their prisoners released. Make a promise to come back to the negotiating table and another 200 prisoners get released. how many times have arabs been in and out of prisons? We know it's true. We like to say: "we can't negotiate with terrorists", but when they have become parliament are they still terrorists? We freed Yasim, didn't we? Freed him! Not allowed him to get married... we freed him! How can you sleep at night knowing people like that man were walking around thinking of ways to destroy the country. And now we ask about a man who was allowed to marry in jail?

    On a second point, I had the following story happen to me when i was in Yeshiva, at the age of 18. During shiur one day our shiur was discussing the idea of saving a non-jewish life. My rebbe argued that it may not be an obligation to save a non-jew if there is no kiddush HaShem involved. For sure if you save him publicly, you have to help him.
    I posed the question that what if you found a non-jew in a field, you pick him, birng him to a house, and walk away, no one knowing that you, a Jew, helped him, thereby removeing the possibility of kiddush HaShem. I said there has to be a chiyuv to help him. My rebbe said not necessarily. He said: "you know what, [my rebbe] Rav Shimshon Pincus [zt"kl] is coming to speak today ask him." So after Rav Pincus's shiur, I went over to him and said: "Rebbe, i was talking with Rabbi So-and-so and he said i dont have to save a non-jew if he is dying and there is no aspect of Kiddush HaShem. Is that true?" Rav Pincus said: "You were arguing with your rebbe? Trust your rebbe, he is right." I went in and said that to my rebbe. My rebbe said: "He said that? i dont accept that." He ran outside and chased Rav Pincus up the street and spoke to him. When my rebbe returned, he said to me: "not so pashut [simple]." Many years later, when I returned to Israel at the age of 23 i told my rebbe over that story as we were reminiscing about Rav Pincus. We responded: "Now that you are old enough I will tell you what he really said. Rav Pincus told me that I was 'arguing with an American kid who was raised on sympathy, pity and human rights. He will not be able to accept the truth. You need to move away from this argument.' In fact, Torah does not require us to save the life of non-jews when there is no Kiddush HaShem involved." I understood at the age of 23 what he meant. I also understood more of Torah philosophy.

    There is no excuse to kill 7 arabs, particularly when it will create a chilul HaShem, among other dangers to Jewish life. That being said, I am not about to, I refuse to compare Ami Popper to a standard arab terrorist. I just wont do it. We dont compare Jews to non-Jews. We need to learn to remove some of our American philosphies....

  8. simon or gittel - thank you for that addition.

    whats - I have a friend who would call that thinking, "a galus Jew". LT lives in America and saying stop thinking like an American is pointless. You need to live in Israel for a while before you can say stop thinking like an American.

    My answer to LT was even based on American thinking there is nothing wrong with Popper getting married. It is a basic right afforded to all prisoners, no matter the crime.

    Thank you for distinguishing between them and making the difference clear.. sometimes our warped sense of "humanity" and mercy make us more compassionate to our enemy than to our own people..

  9. "We dont compare Jews to non-Jews. We need to learn to remove some of our American philosphies...."

    Yes but we are happy to be treated by the non-jews according to "American (western) philosophies". Would you prefer to be treated according to "Islamic fundamentalist philosophies"

  10. let the Americans think like Americans, the Muslims think like Muslims and the Jews think like Jews.
    Maybe in America the Americans think of jews like Americans. That does not apply to Israeli. We are thought of with a double standard.

  11. Rafi, The "Gittel" in my earlier comment was the one who wrote part of the second e-mail, I have know idea who she is, except an acquaintance of a friend.
    Re whats-in's 3:10 pm comment, I believe the Halacha is that if a non-Jew is under a pile of rubble on Shabbos, a Jew is not required to break Shabbos to save him. There's no "pikuach nefesh."

  12. thank Simon. I was unclear as to who was commenting. I believe that is the halacha as well, except in a situation of eivah

  13. "But somehow I have a gut feeling that had he been frum when he was younger, I doubt he would have done the same thing. "

    Like Baruch Goldstein?

    And Rafi,

    Reading these comments you might have well said,"let the american's think like american's and let the jew's think like muslim extremists. Comment after comment using religion to portray the morality and value of not saving a life. And how awful to raise a child with sympathy and empathy and a respect for humans.

  14. Dan - the halacha being discussed is a technical point that is practically not relevant to anything and discusses a situation that never arises.

    Baruch Goldtsein is a different issue completely. He was not a radical when he was younger. He was well respected doctor who treated Jews and Arabs alike. For whatever reason, he flipped out and did what he did. I can tell you theories and they even have "proofs" but you won't accept it and I am not an expert in the exact details of his story, so I will nto bother. But regardless of that, remember that he was not a radical who tormented Arabs his whole life. He treated them equally, until he flipped out and killed a bunch.

  15. Rafi,

    The writer posited that if ami had been raised frum he might not have done what he did. Goldstein being a radical or not is a response to the author's rhetoric and racist like views on secular jews.

  16. I've thought about Baruch Goldstein. I believe that Ami Popper has been let out of jail over a hundred times. If his belief truly was to kill all arabs, and his actions of becoming religious had no effect on him, then how come in the over a hundred times he has been out of jail he didn't commit another murderous act? It can't be because of the fear of jail, he is already there the better part of his life. Obviously something was wrong when he was younger, that turning religous had helped him solve.
    I am not saying that secular jews are more violent. I am saying that he was more violent when he was secular, and I think that turning religious changed that, and made him into a better person. I am not presenting this argument for all mankind. That's a discussion for somewhere else.
    The other thought that occured to me is who else? Ami Popper, Baruch Goldstein. Those are the two examples... funny huh? Of all the suicide bombs, and all the killings and everything else, we focuse on two jews. That's exactly why we don't compare Jews to Arabs. Because two Jews can do more damage and have more of an effect than hundreds of arabs. Food for thought....

  17. The whole argument is based on faulty logic.

    Ami was secular for a long time, he did not go out and kill arabs every day, he did it once. Who knows how he will turn out as a religious person. Perhaps he will kill again and has not yet. Perhaps he won't kill again but instead will rape or steal or abuse people. Perhaps prison turned him around and not religion. My point is that the author spouted a typical religious refrain that esentially says, "religious/ orthodox people are good and non orthodox are bad."

    As to a comparison of jews to arabs...ok first, we were not talking about arabs so that is sort of out of left field. @nd, there are 1 billion muslims and 15 million jews. So if you extrapolate, each jew is equal to approx 660 people. so 2 jewish terrorists is proportional to 1300 muslim terrorists. And were they the only two?

  18. I am sure you have long forgotton this post. Sara was a very good friend of mine. The rape story is true, except that it was a gang rape but local arab workers that worked nearby. and all three children were consumated in a special room in the jail,not at home. And yes, Sara was extremely overwhelmed and stressed, at the time of her death. so much so , that I was concerned that she would take her own life. But HaShem had mercy on her and brought her home to rest. And her children are being raised with all the things she would want to give them, but never could. Ami, on the other hand, has remarried. A third chance, I am not sure he deserved.

  19. Now it is known that Ami Popper a convicted murderer serving time in prison has married recently released child abuser Michal on Sunday may 19, 2013


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