Lazar Berman

Another teen to mourn, another family to embrace

How many will visit the home of slain teen Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir’s to hold his father’s hand?

A teenager was kidnapped and killed Wednesday morning in Jerusalem, City of Peace.

In our capital, an innocent boy was snatched from his neighborhood, forced into a car, and taken away.

Sixteen-year-old Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir’s charred body was found in the Jerusalem forest not long after.

We still do not have all the facts, but police are operating based on the assumption that Abu Khdeir was murdered by ultra-nationalist Jews seeking revenge on Arabs for the kidnapping and murder of Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach.

Israel’s Jews, especially its national-religious camp, united so movingly during the tense 18 days between the kidnapping of the three boys and the discovery of their bodies near Hebron. Tens of thousands of Jews walked miles in the hot sun to accompany the three youths – whom most of the mourners had never met– to their final resting place, and the whole nation wrapped their parents in a tearful embrace as the grieving began.

And now another family needs embracing.

Israel’s leaders have condemned the killing in the strongest possible terms, and Israeli social media is awash with disgust and horror. But if it turns out Abu Khdeir was killed simply because he was an Arab, as Naftali Fraenkel was for being a Jew, will those who comforted Rachelle Fraenkel also comfort Abu Khdeir’s mother (and why don’t we know her name)? How many high schoolers in Bnei Akiva t-shirts will convene in Zion Square, guitars and candles in hand, to mourn a teen from Beit Hanina? How many synagogues will pray for his soul and for the consolation of his family?

How many will visit the family’s home — or will at least investigate the possibility of doing so — to hold his father’s hand, and tell him that they never had the pleasure of meeting Muhammad, but his life serves as an example in some way?

Yes, there are important differences between the two incidents. The country, or its Jewish community anyway, spent 18 days wondering, fearing, hoping — praying, especially praying – as the tension and fear grew each morning the fate of the three boys was unknown. We were inspired and captivated by the grace and ferocious dignity of the three mothers as they clung to optimism and faith. There were not the weeks of emotion and anticipation in Abu Khdeir’s case.

In addition, our neighbors who are so enraged by Abu Khdeir’s slaying failed to show much public anguish at all over the kidnapping of three Jewish students. That is a moral stain on the community and its leaders, absolutely. But should that guide our response to the killing of one of “theirs?”

A boy was slain this morning in Jerusalem, City of Justice.

What do we want our next generation of soldiers and teachers and rabbis to take away from this cursed, draining, inspiring, confusing week? Should we show them that it’s not human life that we cherish and protect and mourn, but only Jewish life? The high school students who mourned Gil-ad, Eyal, and Naftali so sincerely are finding their own voices, filled with the bravado and confidence that comes with that age. But their moral compasses have not yet fixed on their ethical poles. If they see that their parents and youth leaders do not consider an Arab boy from a different neighborhood of Jerusalem worth grieving, where will that needle ultimately point?

Hundreds of young Israelis – a mix of Sabras and olim, religious and secular, Arab and Jew – gathered Wednesday evening in Jerusalem’s center to protest racism and revenge in the wake of the murder of the three teens. It’s an important and worthwhile message, but a somewhat different one. Much of the anguish has been over the fact that Jews might be behind it, not that another teen was kidnapped and killed.

The mourners in Modiin who spoke so passionately and beautifully about the value Jews place on human life have another teenager to mourn. Will they show that they believe that God- their Maker and Muhammad’s- is weeping today at the loss of His creation, into whose body he placed a soul and into whose nostrils He breathed life?

Muhammad might have become a policeman defending the safety of all Jerusalem’s residents. Or maybe a doctor, or a teacher. Or he might not have done much at all, except bring a wide smile to his mother’s face every time he came to visit on a Friday afternoon.

Either way, he was an innocent child, taken and slain in Jerusalem, city of Truth.

In a few weeks, the community so torn by the murder of three of its boys will sit in the dirt of Jerusalem, reading descriptions of the shame and desolation of Jerusalem in the Book of Lamentations.

Do we want the world to ask mockingly, in Jeremiah’s words,
‘Is this the city that men called the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?”

Instead, let us follow another of the prophet’s calls, to “arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord; lift up your hands toward Him for the life of your young children.”

About the Author
Lazar Berman, a former Times of Israel journalist, holds a Masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University. He has worked at the American Enterprise Institute, and served as a Chaplain-in-Residence at Georgetown. Lazar's writing has appeared in Commentary, the Journal of Strategic Studies, Mosaic, The American, and other outlets.
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