America and Israel being thankful together​: In memory of Ezra Schwartz z”l

I received the following email a few days ago.  The subject of the email was “Meeting Cancellation.”  It read: Unfortunately, I have to cancel my meeting with you because I’m flying back to Israel today.  My niece was murdered in a terror attack this morning.

It struck me how sadly matter-of-fact this email was. How does one respond to something like this? How can the citizenry of any nation get used to daily attacks that could happen to anyone, anywhere and everywhere?  The horrible events in Paris and elsewhere, in recent days, have forced the rest of the world to think about this new reality as well.  But there’s a difference between the rest of the world and Israel.  In Israel, the attacks, the fighting and the hostility have happened — and will continue to happen — every day, without an end in sight.  In Paris, and the rest of the Western world, there is clearly a great threat of this kind of devastating attack happening again, but soon enough, people will get used to the threat, routine will set in and life will move on just as it did after last year’s attacks – until they are once again jolted by (God forbid) another such attack, once again.  In Israel, this unsettling reality never seems to go away.

It’s almost as if we, who are an ocean apart and thousands of miles away in America, are in a safe haven – untainted and sheltered from the daily vicissitudes of Jewish life in the Jewish State of Israel.  As much as it pained us to read about the growing list of casualties in this latest terror wave, we were somehow removed from it all in an unspoken and inexplicable way.  Then Ezra Schwartz was murdered and all of that changed.  Ezra could have been any one of our children who are living in Israel, who are studying there now, or who have studied there in the past.  Suddenly, and tragically, the Israeli reality showed up on our shores and entered our homes and communities.

Hundreds of adults and teens went up to Sharon, Massachusetts for the funeral, which was also streaming in our homes, shuls and schools across the country. Hundreds of people have been pouring in from across the country to pay their respects at the Schwartz shiva home.

On Monday, I, along with our Assistant Rabbi, went to pay our respects to the family on behalf of our community and Klal Yisrael, in general.  We saw license plates from different states around the country lined up around the block of the quaint New England town of Sharon, Mass.  We saw busloads of kids pouring in every few minutes.  We saw a burly and tough Jewish Police chief, in full uniform, talking to Ezra’s parents with tears rolling down his cheeks.  We saw people who had flown in from Florida and Ohio just that morning, because their sons are studying at the yeshiva that Ezra attended.  This was a uniquely Eretz Yisrael scene in the very heartland of America.  The dissonance of being here but feeling like you were there was poignant and palpable.

The great Kiddush Hashem of New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, holding a moment of silence for Ezra at the beginning of the Patriots game, for thousands of fans in the stands and millions of viewers at home, only added to this convergence of life in Israel with life in America.  After all, it doesn’t get any more American than American football and the New England Patriots.

While all this is heartening, beautiful and inspirational – albeit in exceedingly tragic circumstances – it leaves us to wonder one thing.  Why did it take us so long?  As my wife put it to me a few days ago, is our American blood any thicker or redder than the blood of Jews in Israel, who are meeting the same fate, at an alarming rate, with each passing day?  Why should it be that they live out their lives as Jews, facing risks and dangers that we dare not face in the US, just so that we can have Israel as a nice place to visit when things are good?  How is that fair? How is it equitable?

After Jacob and Esau meet and seem to reconcile for the first time in many years, Esau invites Jacob to join his caravan.  He suggests that since now they are on good terms, they should travel together and live once again as brothers.  It is not clear if Esau’s offer is genuine or not, but what is clear is that Jacob’s response is certainly not genuine. He basically says to him, “You go ahead and I’ll catch up to you at some point.” To be sure, he never caught up to him and he never intended to.  They parted ways, even though they both insisted that they would be together — at each other’s side.

At this critical juncture in Jewish history, platitudes about support for Israel and our Jewish brothers and sisters will not, and cannot, do.  If the tragedy of Ezra Schwartz has shown the American Jewish community anything — it is that we are all one family — and they need us as much as we need them.  We must mean what we say when we talk about support for Israel.

We must continue to visit, to send our sons and daughters there to study or to live. We must go out of our way to purchase Israeli goods. We must continue to advocate and lobby our government for Israel and the welfare of all Israelis. We must endeavor with all of our souls to feel the pain of the grieving Israeli parent — just as we do for the grieving American parent.  We must pray for those wounded in terror.  We must pray for the welfare of the courageous young men and women of the IDF as if they were our own sons and daughters, husbands and wives.  We must fervently pray for peace.  And, we must engage in campaigns and projects that help and assist Acheinu Bnai Yisrael who are living in distress in our collective homeland.

In this season of thanksgiving, let us give thanks not only to this great country, which we have been blessed to live in, but let us also give thanks to the People of Israel – who endure so much – for the benefit of all of us.  Let us also give thanks to Hashem Elokei Yisrael – the God of Israel – who restored us to our Land and helps us to flourish within it.

May the memory of Ezra Schwartz z”l and all victims of terror in Israel and around the globe endure as blessings for all time.

Happy Thanksgiving…V’Shalom Al Yisrael

About the Author
Rabbi Jonathan Morgenstern currently serves as the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Scarsdale, in New York. He has also served in a number of educational capacities in Westchester area schools. He is a member of several Rabbinic organizations, both communal and national. He is committed to fostering a sense of Ahavat Yisrael, Ahavat Torah, and love for the State of Israel within the hearts, minds and souls of the Jewish people, everywhere.
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