On Thursday, November 20, Palestinian terrorists in Gush Etzion killed Ezra Schwartz. Ezra was an 18-year-old student who was on his gap-year in Israel, after graduating high school earlier this year. Ezra went to Jewish summer camp. Ezra spent a summer with USY. Ezra was not Israeli. Ezra was a Jew.
I did not know Ezra, but I feel a personal connection, Ezra was much like many of my friends and myself. Like Ezra, my older brother spent a summer with USY. Like Ezra, many of my friends spent a year in Israel after they graduated high school. Like Ezra, I went to Jewish summer camp. Like Ezra, I am not Israeli. I am a Jew.
The beauty of the Jewish people is that we are one people. We have felt the incredible pain of losing a stranger. We have felt the pain of the lack of news coverage of Ezra’s terrorist attack; where the Jewish news and Jews on Facebook were the only ways we have come to know Ezra.
Ezra was not oppressing or occupying the Palestinian people. Ezra was not a murderer, and Ezra was definitely not evil. The terrorists responsible did not murder Ezra because he was a Jewish teenager from Sharon, because he traveled the country on USY on Wheels, or because he went to Camp Yavneh. Ezra was murdered because he was Jewish. Ezra’s murder is being celebrated in Palestine because there is one less Jew in the world. Ezra’s murder needs to be the wake up call to Jews of the 21st century. Ezra’s murder needs to be the Jews of the 21st century’s Dreyfus Affair.
As Jews, we need to realize that nobody is going to feel sorry for us that we lost Ezra. Historically, no one has felt sorry for the Jews. Theodore Herzl gave birth to Zionism because he witnessed the anti-Semitism in the trial of Alfred Dreyfus. It is time for the Jewish people of the 21st century to look at Ezra’s murder and conceptualize the battle within us. The only way the Jewish people will win this battle is if we embrace our Jewish identity.
As someone who grew up in a secular community, I have come to notice that the majority of my generation does take Israel for granted, and we are Jewish-in-name-only. It is a sad and sobering truth. My generation does not remember the Holocaust. My generation does not remember sitting in shul when Arab countries attacked Israel on Yom Kippur. Past generations love Israel because past generations saw Israel grow from infancy, and past generations understand a life without a Jewish homeland. That connection to Israel, our home, has dissipated as generations passed on.
When the majority of my generation hears about the terrorist attacks, calls to boycott Israel, or an anti-Semetic act around the world we do not feel part of it. We do not understand that the people preaching for Israel’s destruction that they are preaching for the destruction of the Jewish people. These terrorists do not discriminate when it comes to killing Jews. Terrorists do not care that they killed Ezra; but they celebrate that they murdered a Jew. That Jew could have been you, your bubbe, or your bunkmate from camp.
It is time for Jews outside of Israel to break the habit of turning a blind eye to the news in Israel. It is time to get involved. It is time to raise awareness for why Israel needs to be strong, and above all it is time to defend Israel. I believe it is time to preach that Israel is not the terrible monster that people make us out to be. It is time to become offended when you hear remarks that are anti-Israel, because you acknowledge these remarks are anti-Semitic.
It is time to defend Israel. Engage in conversation with Jewish and non-Jewish peers. It is time to have Shabbat dinner, to go to your campus Hillel, and go on Birthright. It is time to do something because it is the Jewish thing to do. The impact of involving yourself outside of Israel can be just as effective as an Israeli enlisting in the IDF.
On 9/11 France said, “We are all Americans”. On 11/20 I felt like “We are all Israeli” or “We are all Ezra”; however, I have come to realize “We are all Jews”.