David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Déjà vu: ‘Us’ and ‘them’ all over again

Almost 19 years ago on a Shabbat afternoon, my doorman told me the news that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been shot. I ran upstairs to my apartment, put on the television and saw the dramatic events unfold.

In my heart, I felt Israel would embark on a war for this heinous act. We would just wait and see who was responsible: Was it Hamas? Islamic Jihad? The PA? Arafat? Egypt?

Numbness and disbelief paralyzed my body when accounts confirmed that an observant Jew was responsible for Rabin’s death. I changed from channel to channel and read from paper to paper trying to find some source that proved he was really not one of us but one of them. A hater, a rock throwing, Molotov cocktail burning, intifada leading person that is full of anger and seeks a life of violence and to rid the Jews from Israel. But, no matter which channel I turned to or which paper I read, the findings were the same;Yigal Amir was the murderer. A Jew. An Israeli. A so-called, religious person.

Rabin’s murder was a defibrillator to this country that shocked it back into a more normal rhythm of respectful discourse, patience and understanding. In the wake of the days from his death past the shiva and shloshim, there was silence instead of bickering. There were hugs between different factions and even the Knesset worked in unity with those on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Leaders heard and shared with each other in an unusual manner. People learned to disagree with love and respect. People tried to stop the anger and feuding and evil depictions of one another (remember images of Rabin in SS uniforms) and name calling and reminding us that indeed we are one people with unique customs and shared values.

Sadly, our rhythm was out of sync again this week and this small country had its heart shocked again. But this time, the collective souls of Israelis and Jews worldwide is filled with shame, embarrassment and humiliation.

Six Israeli Jews are being held for allegedly kidnapping and gruesomely murdering a 16-year-old boy on his way to morning prayers. He was a good young man, with parents that loved him and siblings that played with him. He was harmless.

As I watched images of another set of grieving parents I realized that whether one is Palestinian or Israeli – Jewish or Muslim – the tears taste the same. They are most bitter when shedding the senseless loss of potential and life.

Like 18 years earlier, it was deja vu all over again. I hit refresh on every website and news station looking for a story that told me what I yearned to read – not what I feared to believe; that his murderers were one of “them” and not “us” – that this was done because of family feuds or some warped sense of honor. Sadly, each refresh on the screen confirmed our worst fears and gave fuel to our deep sense of collective shame.

When Ruth said to Naomi, where you sleep I will sleep, where you go, I will go, she was aligning her destiny with the Jewish people. Today, when we see kippot wearing men or Magen David necklaces dangling from women’s necks, we feel bound in shared commonality, struggle and values. This biblical lesson inspires today that different streams and practices still have basic common denominators. When Jews discover a cure to Polio or contribute to technological advances we should hold our heads high and proud. And, when one of us is a source of shame, we have an individual and collective responsibility to seek forgiveness and remind ourselves of the values of life and respect for others that are sacrosanct regardless of our stripe or commitment to Judaism.

On behalf of my family, our synagogue family and our shared community – I ask for forgiveness to the Khdeir family and all the Palestinian people for the embarrassment and shame fellow Jews have brought upon our people.

May the memory of the four boys that left our world from hatred and violence unite us in peace and love. Shouldn’t that be our lesson? Couldn’t that be their legacy – so we never have Déjà vu on this subject again?





About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC and an adjunct faculty member at the Academy for Jewish Religion, (AJR). He is the author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness, featured in The NY Times Book Review (Feb '24) and has over 11,000 copies in circulation in its first three months since publication. He has spoken on his book and topics connected to Judaism and Zionism across the world.
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