Noam Apter lived to be a good friend. And he died saving them.

A rabbinical student at an Israeli hesder yeshiva, where students combine army service with Torah study, he volunteered with disabled children and wrote poetry about the holiness inside of every being and the potential for spiritual greatness.

But the 23-year-old's life was cut short when terrorists burst into his yeshiva in Otniel and sprayed the room with gunfire. Noam thwarted the terrorists by locking and then blocking the door to the next room, leaving himself in the room with the terrorists, saving more than 100 young men on the other side but sacrificing himself.

Noam's parents, Yossi and Pirchia Apter of the Israeli town of Shilo, say they consider their son's heroic death "a natural extension of the way he lived."

Noam was following a path that reflected a love of giving to his fellow man, explained his father, Yossi Apter.

Under fire, Noam was faced with an agonizing split-second decision, his father said: Armed with a gun in his pocket, he could either try to shoot the terrorists or run to lock the door.

Under fire, Noam was faced with an agonizing split-second decisionNoam's decision to die saving his fellow students "wasn't a random, spontaneous action. It was an accumulation of a lifetime of giving to others," Apter said. "Noam was always busy with volunteer projects and helping the needy."

He opted for saving lives over killing.

On the night of December 27, 2002, the students at Yeshivat Otniel, in the Hebron Hills, were enjoying a Shabbat meal. They sang "Shalom Aleichem" and other songs welcoming the Sabbath. Four students had volunteered to be the evening's waiters and were busy in the kitchen dishing out the food. Noam Apter was among them.

The others were Yehudah Bamberger, 20, Zvi Ziman, 18, and Gabriel Hoter, 17.

When the terrorists burst into the kitchen, Noam could have run from the room and saved his own life. But he didn't. Instead he sprinted to the connecting door and locked himself in the room with the terrorists. He hid the key where they wouldn't find it.

The terrorists shot him in the back. Fatally wounded, Apter fell to the ground — but not before blocking the door with his body.

After they shot everyone in the kitchen – Yehudah, Zvi, Gabriel and Noam – the terrorists tried to open the door to the dining room but failed. Next, they attempted to shoot into the room through a small glass window, but that didn't work either.

Finally, they fled. Later, they were hunted down and killed by the Israeli army.

Noam was hailed a hero by students and rabbis at the yeshiva for his actions. Had he not locked that connecting door during his final moments, they said in news reports on the incident, many more people would have been killed that night.

After Noam's death, his family discovered a trove of poems in his desk.

"Everybody has within him his own temple," Noam wrote in poetic Hebrew. "In some, it's in ruins. Some don't realize that it even exists. But this temple is in every being. It's our soul. Someday, all the private temples within us will stand upright and then we will be prepared to bring the Divine, the Shechina, into the world...."

They also found writings about the importance of giving and love. "Love is the tool through which one person can reach another," he wrote.

Noam, who regularly volunteered with disabled youth and enjoyed spending his free time on outings with them, also gave talks to their counselors about the nature of giving and loving.

"Love is the tool through which one person can reach another," he wroteHe once printed up fliers, which he paid for himself, in order to explain the significance of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, so that those unfamiliar with what the Holy Temple was would understand why Jews mourned its loss on the 9th of Av, Tisha B'Av. He distributed the fliers himself at bus stations throughout Israel.

The Apters periodically visit schools and synagogues throughout the world to speak about their son's life. "I want to teach about Noam's life as a giver, his belief in kindness and mission of helping other people," Apter said.

The presentation, which includes a movie documentary about Noam's life and death, is always well received. "We get a lot of hugs and many warm wishes," said Apter, who has launched a scholarship fund in his son's name. "A lot of people who heard our story told us they were very inspired."

Among them was David Sheffey, an attorney from Teaneck. When he and his wife, Debby, learned several years ago of Noam's courageous act, they were so moved that they decided to name their son after him.

"When we heard the story of Noam Apter – about his bravery, his selflessness – it was a story that resonated with us on many levels," said David Sheffey, who has since introduced his 3.5-year-old son, Noam, to the Apters.

"As we learned more about this exceptional personality and have come to know him through his family, we have come to understand that this act was reflective of a whole life of giving."

Yossi Apter said that even now he continues to meet people who recount the stories of Noam and how he impacted their lives.

"Five months ago I gave a ride to a young fellow. After a few minutes of looking at my face he asked if I'm Noam's father."

The young man revealed that he had served with Noam in the same army unit. He was a new immigrant from Asia whose knowledge of Hebrew at the time was very poor. Noam immediately recognized his difficulties and took it upon himself to help him from the very first day.

Once they were serving in the Harmon Mountains together in the same bunker and the young man got a terrible toothache during his guard duty. Noam appeared out of nowhere and told him he was taking over. He used his little free time so that the young man could rest. "It was a real act of kindness, of chessed," said Yossi.

Noam was following a path that reflected a love of giving to his fellow manRabbi Yakov Nagen of Otniel said that he uses Noam's life to convey lessons to teens he encounters in and out of yeshiva. "One of the teachings I try to give over is that it may have been easier had we never been born, but it is not better," says Rabbi Nagen. "There's what's easy and what's good. What life is really all about is choosing between the easy path or choosing to do what's good."

To exemplify this lesson, Rabbi Nagen recounts the story of Noam's death. Noam was next to the dining room door and could have fled through it to safety. But, he perceived what the terrorists were planning, and locked himself in the kitchen with the terrorists to prevent them from reaching the scores of students. "So that last moment choice not to run out," says Nagen, "but rather to lock the doors and be sealed inside, I think, is the best example of the choice between what's easy and what's good."