‘V’ Is for Victory
The odyssey of Jack Tytell: An intimate look at the accused Jewish killer
III. The Americans
On May 5, the psychiatrist in Jerusalem’s Sha’ar Menashe psychiatric hospital, where Tytell has been under evaluation for the past six months, submitted a written evaluation to the court, finding that Tytell’s mental state makes him unfit to stand trial. The psychiatrist requested a planned June hearing be postponed until today, July 14. Tytell will remain under evaluation until he is deemed “fit.” Tytell believes himself to be an “emissary of God” who had dreams in which he was commanded to commit acts of violence and terror, or else he would die. He was a man on a mission to protect the good Jews from the evil others: Arabs, homosexuals, Messianic Jews, and leftist Jews. To Tytell, his odyssey was a proclamation of the truth of God’s promise to the Jews. When Tytell entered the Jerusalem courtroom in December 2009 he did not stand for the judge nor acknowledge the charges against him. Instead he signaled “V” for victory and made only one statement in court: “It was a pleasure and honor to serve my God. I have no regret.”
CREDIT: Will Yakowicz
Some of those close to Tytell do not see him as an aberrant psychotic, though they are not quite sure what he is, or who—if anyone—might be to blame for not predicting his crime spree. “He is not insane,” Ed Codish, who was a teacher at the Akiva Hebrew Day School in Michigan while Tytell was a student, tells me. “He’s just horribly and terribly wrong.” When the news broke of Tytell’s arrest, Ed’s wife Susann’s former students at Akiva, with whom she keeps in contact on Facebook, wrote on each other’s walls: “We should’ve seen this coming!”
“Jack said when he grew up he wanted to go to Israel and kill Arabs,” Ed Codish says, echoing his wife, as we sit in his living room in Pardesiya, a town three miles east of the coastal city of Netanya, to which they retired. In their American life, the Codishes taught at Akiva, where Tytell was a student in the 1990s until his family moved away during his senior year. Ed taught Jewish history and English, and Susann taught Hebrew and Judaic studies. Tytell, Ed Codish says he remembers, would march the hallways stating how he wanted to kill Arabs in the Holy Land. He would shoot an invisible M-16 while pretending to be in battle, blaze the enemy in a fire trail, or jump over tripwires that only existed in his head. When in class he would doodle tanks and guns in his notebook.
CREDIT: Will Yakowicz
“There was absolutely no surprise when we saw him in the news,” Ed Codish says as he pushes his glasses, held together with medical tape, further up the ridge of his nose. “I have no doubt that he is guilty.”
Tytell’s parents gave their son an itinerant childhood balanced by a strong connection to Orthodox Judaism and to the military. Mark, his father, was a dentist in the U.S. Navy, and the family relocated every few years to a different Orthodox community in a new city: Kendale Lakes, in Miami, Florida; Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia; West Rogers Park, in north Chicago; and Oak Park, outside Detroit. In Tytell’s senior year in high school the family moved to Athens, Greece, and then back to Virginia and then to Florida.
By that time, Tytell’s views had apparently gelled. Ed Codish says that everyone in the school knew Tytell hated Arabs and wanted to kill them. “He was not secretive about his feelings,” Codish says. But teachers did not speak to Tytell about his racist outbursts. “He was not one to confront about his ideas. He was intimidating and never gave the impression that he was listening,” Codish says. As Codish is talking, I can almost envision Tytell leaving the United States at 25, setting out to exact righteous vengeance for the Arab attacks against Jews in the Holy Land.
Although many of Tytell’s fellow students refused to speak to me on the record, they gave descriptions very similar to those given by the Codishes. And a look through Akiva Hebrew Day School’s class of 1990 yearbook verifies the profile of the young Jewish boy as a weapon-obsessed character with violent urges. On its first page is a drawing of the school bordered by the students’ names with personalized icons next to each one. On the right-hand corner Jack Tytell’s name is drawn with a picture of a tank. Tytell’s senior portrait is neat and conservative. He’s wearing a white suit and a striped tie and sports an easy smile that is made a bit less welcoming by his off-centered eyes. Underneath his portrait is a quotation, signed anonymous, that reads, “Akiva is like a bottomless pit, the misery is endless.” On the page after his portrait is a collage of photos of Jack as a teenager. In one picture he crouches in an athletic stance wearing a bush hat camouflaged with foliage. His face is under a gas mask, and he clutches what looks like a machine gun with his finger on the trigger. His other hand squeezes the barrel, pointed at the camera. On a page titled, “Last Will and Testament,” where students wrote what they would want for their last day, Tytell asked for “an Uzi and a grenade, [teacher] Rabbi Lopin’s home address in Seattle and a Valium.”
Tytell’s odyssey from the United States to Israel, from an Orthodox community in Miami, to Ben-Gurion Airport, to Jerusalem, past a few military checkpoints, north on Route 60, and up the hill to Shvut Rachel, is not unique, and according to Ed Codish, neither is his xenophobic mindset. “I know many people like him, and there are many more,” the former teacher says seriously and with a noticeable sense of shame. While only a small minority of Jews who make aliyah from the United States are radicals, Codish suggests, they are notably overrepresented among the handful of settlers who have urged the expulsion of all Palestinians from the West Bank and who have committed acts of extreme violence.
It’s Friday afternoon and Susann Codish is preparing for the Sabbath. She wears a thin-threaded orange shawl over her hair, a long denim skirt, and rainbow stockings. She is making four loaves of egg-glazed challah. A rambunctious chocolate Lab named Ziggy is crazed by the smells left over from breakfast, and a sly Siamese cat named Loki meanders in and out of the room. A blue-eyed granddaughter sits in a chair laughing at Ziggy’s madness and is delighted by the fact that I don’t mind when she flings eggs onto my notepad.
“In Jerusalem it’s all about how this prophet walked here, this priest built this, or Jesus spoke here,” Susann says as she paints more glaze on the braided dough. In Pardesiya things are different. “I’d prefer to think about the future, and I think that’s why a lot of Jews come to Israel, to ensure a future and forget about the past.” She puts the glazed dough in the oven and picks up a metal bowl and starts to knead another batch.
“I remember he had an intense stare, I’d always make a point to put my eyes to the ground when we crossed paths. I’ll never forget that stare,” she says as she keeps her rhythm; she kneads the sticky beige clump four times and flips it over, kneads four times and flips. “Who knows? Maybe his eyes are windows into his soul.”
“What Jack is accused of is right there with the Jack I know,” she says distractedly while molding the dough. She tells me that Tytell’s views are not his alone but rather representative of a minority of Jews who believe God does not want Arabs to live on the land of the Jews. Tytell may have been a solo operator, she says, “but, psychically he had a gallery of supporters. He was doing things that people want to do, but he had the balls to do it.”
Susann Codish says she did not feel responsible for not doing anything about Tytell’s behavior as a teacher. However, she felt a huge responsibility while teaching the Torah, molding the minds of young Jews while conveying the word of God. “What if I got it wrong? That’s very heavy. It’s the word of God, you can’t mess that up,” she says. When I ask her if Tytell’s anti-Arab views were shaped at Akiva, she says that most teachers did not support killing Arabs. But she gives me the name of someone who she says was close with Tytell and supported his violent racist views at the school. Later, I call that person and mentioned Tytell’s name. The person declined to talk about their relationship and then hung up.