The human mind is pretty amazing. We anticipate evil as something other than our own experience. Sure, there are shoplifters, tax-evaders, and the Devil’s first-begotten son: double parkers, but they are not EVIL. Evil refers to a special brand of villain; the kind one meets on a page or in a theater. We’ll never meet a real gangster — only gangsters meet gangsters. Only murderous members of rivaling tribes meet in dark alleyways to commit the unthinkable.
And then evil visits our doorstep. Something has changed. When school bus stops are not exclusively places symbolic of limitless potential because now they also have permanent memorials to the youths who were kidnapped from there and subsequently murdered, things have changed. When local volunteers drop their books and head to the ambulance but, in addition to a seatbelt, they strap on bullet-proof vests for protection, something has changed. When a ten-year-old tells her father that her teacher has a “certain look that she gets when there is a “pigu’a” (attack) and she has been getting that look a lot a lot”, something has changed.
When a grocery store hailed as the paradigm of coexistence is virtually empty because coexistence is great but existence at all is even greater and “I just don’t feel comfortable taking that chance”, something has changed. When the kindergarten teacher takes the hand of one of her precious charges as they stroll through the neighborhood and in the other hand is a small bottle of pepper spray, something has changed. When a so-called successful ending to yet another terrorist event refers to a missed attempt as well as a dead terrorist, something has changed. While evil must definitely be eradicated and these would-be attackers deserve everything that is coming to them, seeing our Holy and welcoming streets strewn with the result of said eradication is still extreme — too extreme for most of us. We weren’t supposed to see that kind of carnage. But something has changed.
And so, as it goes, our friends ask us how WE deal with it…..what are WE doing…..and how can THEY help. WE are living. We are going to school and work and to the store (though we may choose to support the local family-owned small shop inside our gated and patrolled community). We are praying for the safety of our immediate families and our extended one. We are acknowledging that these weeks have been extraordinary and that, while we are firm in our resolve not to cave to terror, we are also proactively enforcing that resolve and reinforcing our children and our neighbors and ourselves. We, in our community, have declared today a public fast day (or half-day) and have included extra prayers in today’s liturgy while encouraging more Torah study and strengthening of our interpersonal relationships. This is real. It is not a movie. The goal is not just survival. The goal is living.
A friend, a pulpit rabbi, wrote to me last week after the umpteenth attack (too) close to our home. He was checking in, he said, but he also wanted my input as to what his Diaspora community could do. He acknowledged that it was unfair of him to expect me to provide the cure for his community’s desire to participate in “what’s going on in Israel”. But his query was definitely genuine. It gave me an insight into a slice of Diaspora Jewry. You care. You really do. There is no doubt that our Jewish brothers and sisters of all walks of life all over the world are genuinely concerned about us and about our Homeland. And you don’t know what to do about it.
Nor do I, but here’s a start:
- I think that most of us don’t want sympathy, but we are encouraged by your empathy. Every person experiences every change, every attack, differently. Take the time to ask your friends and family what this intifada means to them and to their children. Speak to the children, too. There is strength in numbers. Thanks to social media, It has become something of a fad, lately, to “Stand with Israel”. Don’t stand with Israel….unless Israel is the name of your cousin in Afula or your colleague in Beit Shemesh. Stand with children, parents, individuals, schools, and communities. Israel is a concept but we are people. Each one living his or her own unique life.
- If you are concerned about your own inability to act on behalf of Our Land or its lucky inhabitants, so are we. It is very crippling to realize that we can not really anticipate any of these attacks and we just have to look over our shoulders wherever we go. On the other hand, what we can do and you can do just as well, is to reach out to one another. I suggested to my friend that his shul could have an evening during which they would have the opportunity to write letters/decorate cards for Israeli school children and our precious soldiers. If you or someone you know is visiting Israel, bake some cookies and send them to a 19-year-old boy who has been standing in the rain for 6 hours looking out for suspicious individuals and hoping he doesn’t become a victim. We are real people and you are real people. Let’s schmooze! In addition to those simple ideas, when your shul, or PTA, or sisterhood gets together for the letter-writing or cookie baking, say a prayer on behalf of our Israel.
- Few are statements so impotent as “Stay Safe”. Huh? Is that really what you wanted? Glad you mentioned…..cuz I was just about to go play in traffic!. Suffice it to see that bad news being reported there is being experienced here. We’ll do our best to stay safe. But not because you asked us to. Instead, we’ll be doing our best to stay safe because that is (hands down) the most efficient way to continue living our respective lives.
I know that these events have caused so many different people in different places with different ideas to have different feelings. Many of those people have expressed those feelings right here in these blogs. I hope I’ve added something and I hope you’ll consider some of these ideas for your communities or with your loved ones.
And to you, Rabbi Jonny, thanks for asking!