By Alan Zeitlin
Stuart Force knew that when his son, Taylor, went to serve in Afghanistan, there could be risks. When Taylor returned unscathed and decided to travel to Israel with fellow Vanderbilt MBA students, there was little thought that he would be in danger.
Speaking to a packed crowd at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park for the annual gala dinner of Manhattan Jewish Experience, Force recalled answering his cell phone to hear the horrific news that his son, a 28-year-old former U.S. Army captain, was one of 11 people stabbed in Jaffa and had died from his wounds.
“I went home and told my wife that we lost our son, and he was murdered by a terrorist,” Force said, recalling the day in March 2016. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. We cried and hugged…”
Force explained that he was soon contacted by Sander Gerber, CEO of Hudson Bay Capital. Gerber was infuriated to learn that the Palestinian Authority has a law through which it pays terrorists for their attacks and pays the families of terrorists who are killed. Gerber has been a driving force in bringing about the Taylor Force Act, which cuts America’s annual aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it eliminates its law that rewards terrorists. It was signed into law on March 23.
Gerber and Force had been meeting with and lobbying lawmakers to gain support, and on one occasion, Force’s former West Point cadets came along.
“There was a six-month period where they lost six classmates in Afghanistan and that they understood,” said Gerber, who was honored by Manhattan Jewish Experience and addressed the crowd. “But Taylor had hung up his uniform and when they heard he was killed, they couldn’t believe it. Then they heard the Palestinians were celebrating and they couldn’t believe it. Then they heard there was actually a Palestinian Authority written law to pay the murderer … Then the West Pointers said what we didn’t understand is that the United States taxpayer subsidizes it.”
Gerber later said he believed the Palestinian law was a major incentive for terrorist acts involving stabbings. He also said he was thankful to the current American administration for its support.
Force said he knew that “it’s harder to say no to someone when there is a face to go along with a cause” and added that “this is something my son would have supported.”
Gerber told the audience that when he invited Stuart Force for Shabbat dinner at his Manhattan home, Force said it made him feel close to Taylor because his son mentioned that he had an enjoyable Shabbat dinner experience at West Point. Force said he went online and found “Hebrew for Dummies” to see what a Shabbat dinner was, but what took place exceeded his expectations due to a sense of fellowship.
Based on West 86th Street in Manhattan, Manhattan Jewish Experience provides those in their twenties and thirties who are looking to explore Judaism with Shabbat dinners, prayer services, classes, trips to Israel, and lectures on topics from dating to finance, parties and happy-hours. A number of young Jewish professionals with ties to the Five Towns attend MJE’s events. Ronen Agadi, a real estate broker who grew up in Great Neck, said he was touched by what he saw and heard.
“It’s an unfortunate tragedy,” Agadi said. “Here is someone who’s not Jewish, who went to Israel for the first time and lost his life. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s unbelievably sad. It’s nice to see that Stuart Force, as hurt as he is that his son was killed, understands the value in trying to do something to try to help stop this and has the strength to move forward.”
Force praised Gerber not only for bringing about the Taylor Force Act but for helping him and his wife deal with the emotional pain of losing their son. He also referenced Bob Dylan’s song “Shelter from the Storm.” He later said his son was a great guitarist and a decent singer.
Gerber and his wife, Tracy, were presented with a menorah featuring candleholders shaped as rockets that were partially made of shrapnel from rockets that fell in Sderot. This was in line with the theme of the night, which was turning tragedy into something good and darkness into light.