It was at the end of my first day of a week-long trip to Poland (my first time there), while I was trying to process what I’d seen and learnt in Warsaw, that I heard the unbearable news about the three kidnapped Israeli boys whose names are so familiar now they will never be forgotten: Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali.
I couldn’t stop thinking about what the boys had gone through, what the families would be going through. About the horrific moment the boys must have realised what happened. Did they think they were going to be killed or did they think they had a chance? Could they have had any idea how worried the whole Jewish nation was about them, how much whatever happened to them would affect us? How could a mother and father get over it? How could brothers and sisters go on without their brother? Each boy unique and irreplaceable, with his own talents, personality, and sense of humour.
I felt physical pain and I cried from all those things, and I hated the world, this world where 70 years after the Nazis killed 6 million Jews, nothing has changed, Palestinian terrorists murder three young, good, Jewish teenagers, just because they are Jewish; Palestinians express support for it, including their leadership Fatah, under Abbas; and where the world’s reaction is to call for Israel to exercise restraint, still nothing, no words and no actions against the Palestinians’ Nazi-style propaganda and incitement that turns children into terrorists.
Even if we’ve never met the boys or their families, it still feels like a personal attack, because the terrorists would target any Jew. So even when we’re arguing and seemingly divided after an event like this, we’re still united, like it or not.
Over the next two days in Poland I visited the Majdanek death camp, and then Auschwitz-Birkenau. I didn’t feel any sudden jolt of shock being there like I thought I would. Instead, it gradually sank in, while I was there, and also over the rest of the trip: where I was, what I was seeing, what happened there, how much time and effort and planning it took for the Nazis to build these camps with their endless fields of barracks. What – and who – each suitcase, each pair of glasses, each shoe represented.
But then somehow, just as I was leaving Auschwitz, when so many didn’t have that luxury, I felt something else. That as messed up as this world is, life is still a gift. It wasn’t just an appreciation for life because we have it and the victims lost it. It may have been something to do with the young Jews there singing songs of faith, because if we still have faith in G-d then it means we haven’t been defeated. It was feelings of defiance and determination. Millions were murdered, and many people want us dead just because we’re Jews. Sometimes, as with our boys Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, our enemies succeed. But if we are alive, then we have to appreciate life and the opportunities it gives us. We have to better ourselves and better the world. On behalf of the lives that were taken, we have to do good to make up for those losses, for the good that they can no longer do.
I have faith in us. We are better than our enemies. We are not perfect but we are unquestionably better, and I say this even knowing that it seems the Palestinian boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir was murdered by Jews as ‘revenge’. Except revenge is a strange way of putting it, because they must have known that Israelis and Jews, and in particular the three Israeli families, would never support such an atrocity. If it was nationalistically motivated, it is disgusting, inexcusable, and one of very few cases of ‘Jewish terrorism’. And aside from a small group of extremist Jews, as a whole we – Israeli citizens and Jews from around the world, religious and secular, right-wing, left-wing, media, leaders, and the families of the murdered Israeli boys, condemn it, and even call and visit to offer condolences. The Palestinians on the other hand – citizens, media, leaders, and parents of one of the suspected terrorists, celebrate the kidnapping and murder; handing out sweets, the ‘moderate’ Fatah and Palestinian Authority posting images of a victory sign holding up three fingers, with the comment “for your interpretation”, of three rats caught on the hook of a fishing rod, captioned “masterstroke”; referring to the boys as the “three Shalits”, calling them soldiers, getting children to pose holding up three fingers, and Fatah posting videos and messages glorifying terror and threatening Israelis.
The murderers will be dealt with by Israeli law, as is normal in a democracy. If they are Jews, they are a source of shame, not pride for Israel. But that very fact makes me proud.
So yes, we are better. But there is always room for improvement, so let’s improve.