No rabbinic prescription can console the aching hearts of those mourning the loss of Jewish life this week in Israel. Bloodied prayer shawls (talises) are indelibly painted into our memories and our fears. I wish I could rid my mind’s eye of it. I cannot!
Even rabbis can come up empty searching for words and meaning to such tragedy.
Just as every thorn is usually attached to a rose, there was a gorgeous moment within this awful episode.
When the attack in Har Nof occurred, the Police responded quickly and engaged in a fire-fight with the terrorists. One of the first responders was an officer named Zidan Saif. As his name suggests, he was not Jewish. Rather, Zidan was Druze, part of a Shia Muslim group that originate from Lebanon and Syria and today within Israel, predominantly live in the north near the Galilee. They overwhelmingly integrate into Israeli society and conscribe to the army, often making exemplary soldiers and commanders.
Zidan was shot in the head by one of the terrorists; a fellow Muslim. Though physicians tried valiantly to save his life, Zidan succumbed to his wounds later that day.
The ultra-Orthodox community is quite insular, especially in Har Nof. Most members of that community follow an understanding of tradition that forbids them from entering churches and mosques and even witnessing other religious celebrations and commemorations from near for fear others could deduce they are part of that expression of faith and would categorize them as worshiping another faith and god.
Nonetheless, throngs of buses filled with ultra-Orthodox people, many from the very community that Zidan died defending, traveled three hours north to the village of Kfar Yanouch in the Galilee. There they joined with thousands from across the nation including elected officials, to attend the Islamic-Druze funeral of Zidan and console his young wife and infant daughter.
This act reminded me of the moment this summer when Racheli Fraenkel recited the mourner’s kaddish in memory of her murdered son, Naftali. The prayer, usually said by only men in Orthodox circles, was recited in this case by a woman and before the chief rabbis of Israel. These rabbinic leaders had to quickly choose whether to follow the letter of the law and not answer her prayer, dismissing her grief, or to reply to her prayer, trumping the letter of the law for feelings and humane behavior. The rabbis made the wise decision of answering her prayer. It was considered a watershed moment in the history of the religious and national state.
Today in the north of Israel, the kindness of the ultra-Orthodox to offer consolation by attending a service they would usually keep away from is a valuable lesson and an important opportunity. It is sad that Jewish law stretches its elasticity to be more egalitarian in moments of tragedy. Perhaps that is why we call these acts, Kiddush Hashem – acts for the sanctification of God’s name. Ultimately, they bring us closer and make us more tolerant. That might be the only silver lining of this senseless tragedy.
May the souls of the murdered rabbis and Zidan Saif, be bound in Eternal Life.
May they forever rest in peace.
May those wounded have a full recovery.
May this act of unity for burial be the dawning of renewed love for all of God’s creatures.