Yesterday, I attended the funeral of 16-year-old Shira Banki, who passed away days after being stabbed by a fanatic ultra-Orthodox man at last week’s Jerusalem Pride March.
As I walked down the dirt path to the Kibbutz Nachshon cemetery, I recalled similar walks that I made last year, as I attended the funerals of fallen soldiers during Operation Cast Lead. The soldiers’ funerals contained a sense of purpose — these young men died protecting the State of Israel from terrorism; Shira’s funeral contained a sense of emptiness, of abject loss. There is no acceptable explanation for her murder; no military general will comfort the family by speaking of the larger ambitions of the Jewish people. Rather, Shira died because of, in the words of her family, “stupidity, evilness, and recklessness.”
Three years ago, the Banki family was featured in an article about secular Israeli families with many children. The Bankis were blessed with four children — Shira was the eldest. Mika and Uri Banki were quoted as saying, “[The reason we had many children is not] because of demographic issues, and it’s not a competition. We can only speak about quality. Quality [parenting] is to raise good citizens, children who will bring happiness to themselves and their surroundings.”
As Jerusalem’s Rabbi Benny Lau pointed out, in what upside-down world are the Bankis considered secular and the murderer, Yishai Shlissel, considered religious? The Talmud teaches, “Always let the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near” (Sotah 47). In other words, we should embrace with greater strength than we reject. Shira’s last moments were spent embracing others; Shlissel, tragically, chose rejection and violence.
We can learn so much from the Banki family. They taught their children openness and tolerance, and taught them to stand in support of those who live with differences. And, as they encountered tragedy, they embraced life: they chose to donate Shira’s organs.
As I left the funeral, I was approached by television news crews for comment. “If you didn’t know the family personally,” they asked, “why did you, a rabbi from Canada, come to the funeral?”
I thought for a moment before answering. I said, “I came because I wanted the family to know that Jews in Canada care about them, and we will remember their daughter; I came because I wanted to remind myself and my community that our Torah is a Torah of love and inclusiveness, and not a Torah of hatred and violence; and I came because Shira’s last teaching — that which she was engaged in during the march in Jerusalem — was that there is power in simply showing up, and showing your support. So I simply came to show my support to Shira’s family and to those who live in fear of being attacked for their lifestyles or beliefs.”
Shira’s family wasn’t religious, but she lived a life of holiness; it’s a life that our religious communities should honor, remember, and aspire to emulate.