It is 10:15 PM on Thursday, November 19th, and I am sitting in LAX. It has been a very long day. I woke up for a 6 AM conference call with Israel and was immediately assaulted by the reports of the terror attack in Tel Aviv where two people were murdered outside of a synagogue. As the director of a gap year program, I sat through the early morning call, but all I could think of was: ‘who are the victims,’ ‘I hope I get my email out to the parents before they wake up’ and ‘how am I going to relay this information to them?’
As soon as the call was over, I immediately started to draft the email. I mulled over my words as if they were frail and then another news report came in. This time it was the shooting in the Gush region where three people were shot dead and four injured. Before I could call my colleagues in Israel, my phone rang. It was my daughter. ‘Ima,’ she said through tears, ‘the 50 year old was neighbors with the Cohen’s in Alon Shvut and the 18 year old American is someone who is close to a lot of people we know.‘ As I tried to comfort her, she continued to tell me about the teen. She told me he went to Ashreinu, that he was from Boston and went to Maimo, and he went to Yavne. I froze. The program I direct has a graduate of Maimo and an alumni of Yavne. I quickly went on Facebook to confirm my fears and learned that not only was Ezra friends with two young adults on my program, but he was also the nephew and cousin of friends of ours. My heart sank.
The professional side of me had a lot to do. I needed to call my counterparts in Israel and make them aware of this situation. We needed to check in with the teens who knew him personally. We needed to contact the parents of these teens and I needed to finish the email to let all the other parents know that, while we were all safe, others were not. The mother in me wanted to reach through the phone and hug my daughter who had been in Israel on her gap year just two years ago and was inconsolable over this unbearable loss of life. The friend in me wanted to reach out to our friends who just lost their nephew and cousin.
I worked through the day. That evening, I was attending a gap year fair in Irvine, California. As I drove there, I wondered how many people would no longer attend – scared off after the day’s events. All in all, there were about twenty attendees. I wanted to hug and thank each and every person I spoke to for not giving in to terror, for not letting them win. For still believing,
After the fair, as I drove to LAX to catch the red eye, I finally had a chance to process the day. What struck me is how this one hit close to home. The previous week’s attacks in Paris horrified me. I was saddened for all the people who lost loved ones, I mourned the loss of so many innocent lives, and my heart went out to all of Paris, but I wasn’t numb. This day I was numb. Earlier in the day, I thought of Ezra’s parents and the horror they are facing. And, while no one other than his parents have any idea how this feels, I thought: the reason why this is so close to home is because Ezra was everybody’s son. He could have been anybody’s son. The reason why my daughter and all her friends were so upset was not just because people they know and love were directly affected by this, but they realized it could have been any of their friends. It could have been them.
I know every time it hits close to home there are calls for ‘let’s not forget this,’ ‘let’s do something to affect change,’ ‘let’s not let his or her death be in vain.’ And, while some people take the lesson to heart and make real change, others take action for a time but eventually the memory of the tragic day fades and so does the motivation.
When the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo occurred, ‘Je Suis Charlie’ was all over my Facebook feed. It had hit close to home for so many. The recent attacks in Paris left over 100 people dead. Innocent lives were lost and it hit close to home for all of their families, friends and friends of friends. That week, they were us.
As Jews, we are taught to ‘choose life;’ to love life and understand it is a gift from G-d. When people are senselessly murdered, we should mourn for them no matter what religion, nationality or political party they are. Only when all of humanity can come together and mourn these innocent victims – only then – will we have a chance to never forget. Only then will we really be able to affect change. Only then will we love each other and respect each other for being the one thing we all are – gifts from G-d.
I didn’t know Ezra, but he touched the lives of so many people I know. I don’t want to forget his senseless murder. I don’t want to forget that an innocent 18 year-old American boy went to do a good deed and died. I don’t want my life to go back to normal without me changing something real. What changes are you going to make?