Like nearly all people of conscience, I was sickened and angered to hear of the firebombing murder of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha earlier this year. In my well-intentioned attempt to bring comfort to the bereaved family, however, I nearly transformed my wife, five young children, and other family members into mourners themselves.
To refresh readers’ memories, late one night this past July, in the northern Samaria village of Duma, still-unknown evil people approached the Dawabsha family home, and threw Molotov cocktails through the windows. The house went up in flames, and Saad and Reham Dawabsha struggled to remove their sleeping children to safety. In the confusion, Reham thought that she had taken her little Ali, wrapped in a blanket.
She had not.
Ali died of his wounds that night, and his parents subsequently died over the next few weeks. Following Ali’s death, many in Israel, and around the Jewish world, took to the internet, and to the streets, to express their horror and disgust at this despicable murder.
As disgusted as I was, as well, I was also very troubled by what I felt were unfair rhetorical attacks on the Jewish residents of Judea-Samaria, the Jewish citizens of Israel, all religious Jews, and even on the entire Jewish people. Based on a witness claiming that he saw the perpetrators running towards the nearby Jewish town of Ma’aleh Efraim, it seemed that it was open season on verbally attacking anyone- and anything Jewish.
Wait a minute, I thought. What about the huge rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square denouncing the (as of then, just one) murder, at which Ali Dawabsha’s uncle spoke? What about the condemnations coming from all segments of Israeli- and Jewish society, including from the Israeli government? Did they not count for anything? To be sure, all groups have their “bad apples,” but what is more important is how the apples’ groups respond to them. And in this case, these apples, rotten to their cores, were collectively regurgitated.
Having seen articles and pictures telling of condolence visits paid by prominent rabbis, and by groups of regular Israeli Jews, I felt I needed to do something, as well. So on Monday afternoon, August 3, after calling a friend to solicit his advice (he was ambivalent) I drove up Highway 60, passed through the bloc of towns near Shiloh, turned onto the Alon Road, and entered the approach road to the village of Duma.
As I passed two Palestinian twenty-something men on the side of the road, I realized that I had made a serious mistake. This was not where I should have been.
I stopped my car, planning to turn around, but the two men ran up to me, yelling in Arabic. I rolled down my windows (I had already removed my kippah), and they continued yelling. “In’g’leze?” (“English?”), I said in Arabic. They indicated “no,” and one of them then asked, “Jewish?” “La, Amriki” (“no, American”), I answered. For the next few minutes, I lied in my broken Arabic that I was travelling from Jerusalem to Beit She’an, and wanted to get back to the main road. During this time, the one on my side of the car kept making phone calls. And I began to notice that a number of his fellow villagers were gathering close to my car.
After about seven minutes, I noticed a vehicle approaching from the village itself. It was one of those old-style stretch Mercedes taxis, and it held more than just its driver. There were at least five other occupants.
Finally, it hit me. The man on the phone had been organizing a lynch mob. And if I stayed where I was for even another minute, I would be dead.
I threw the car into reverse, as I initiated a three-point turn. As the group of Arabs was screaming “Wa’qif! Wa’qif! Wa’qif!” (“Stop! Stop! Stop!”), I continued my escape. As I began the final part of the turn, a taxi van came along the narrow road. Had he stopped in front of me, I would have been wedged between him and the stone walls on either side of the road. But he kept driving, and I began to pull away.
Then the rocks came flying into the car. A passenger window was completely obliterated, and the back window was also smashed. I sped along the exit road, and then along the winding highway back to Jerusalem, rarely going less than 150 km/h (90 mph). I have never been so scared in my life.
When I filed my police report the next day, the officer was very upset with me. “You could have been slaughtered,” she said. “Not merely killed, but slaughtered. They would have done to you what they did to the two IDF reservists who mistakenly entered Ramallah in 2000.” As I explained to her, I foolishly let my good inclination, which urged me to comfort the Dawabsha family, overwhelm my sense of what was the wise thing to do.
Why am I sharing this with all of you? Why did I share it with the members of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan during the High Holidays? It is not merely, as I told them, that I now have a greater appreciation of the line from the U’Netaneh Tokef prayer, “Who [will die] by stoning?” This incident did much more to me than that. Since August 3, I am a changed person. (Just ask my wife, Michal.) I am much calmer with my family. I rarely yell at my children anymore. I am much better at “not sweating the small stuff.” I have a perfect record of praying three times a day, and of laying tefillin. I recognize that I was given a second chance at life, and I am trying to make the most of it.
Please do not wait for something similar to what happened to me to happen to you in order to realize what is really important in life. Try not to let your children’s little mistakes upset you as much. Don’t wait until next week, or next month, to call that friend, relative, or elderly member of the community you haven’t spoken to in a while. Give thanks to God at least once a week that you are alive.
If you ever find yourself on Highway 458 near Duma, please remember how fragile life can be. And then make the most of the time bestowed upon you in this world.