In a world where one man can shoot hundreds of people at a theatre, while his brother cries how could he do that, where an ambulance can sit by at the scene of a shooting without the medics jumping out to help the wounded and dying family, we maintain the illusion of normalcy for ourselves and especially for our children by playing a game. This game is called “It’s safe here but not there,” and it lets us get up in the morning, put on clothes and go about our lives despite the constantly increase in the state of chaos.
My son plays this game, willing to take a bus to leave our town for the city, but nervous about standing at a bus stop in the city in order to get home. My husband plays this game, telling me that this time around, it’s not a good idea to take a stopover in France (so now Europe knows how a boycott feels) on my way to the US, because at least if I leave straight from here, it’s our boys watching over us and sadly, we/they know what it takes to keep a country safe; constant vigilance (to quote MEM/JKR). I don’t play this game, but I do play “Dare you,” along with the rest of us, taking pictures of ourselves while we go about our daily lives [#eatifada and #shoptifada]. What’s “Dare you”? We dare to keep living, going shopping in places where the blood was just cleaned off the street, driving the same way we always did and not making concessions to the crazy, lest they get what they want and see that they *can* in fact terrorize us.
So the US learned that horrible things can happen anywhere, and now Europe is learning the same painful lesson. Many people in Paris are crying and in shock this week. Believe me, my heart is with them. It is, despite the feeling that many times, their hearts are not with us, that our tragedies are less because only a bit of Jewish blood was spilled. It is hard to rise above the feeling that if they don’t care about us, why should we care about them. But we are more than that — it is our whole being and our destiny to teach the world to care. Right now, their death toll is higher than ours, but, as someone posted recently, the US has 9/11, Paris now has 13/11, but we are living this 24/7. It is not breaking us, but it is hard to accept the constancy of hearing that this family was murdered or that one. Even in the case of the Litman family, they are no longer a family.
Make no mistake, it was the whole family who died this past erev shabbos, because even though the wedding that was supposed to take place this week will only happen quietly after the bride finishes the first week of mourning for her father and brother, and even though she will try to build a new life with her husband, may they be showered with blessings, she will not quickly heal from the sudden and devastating loss of her family, just as the rest of her remaining family members will take a long time to heal.
On the day after the stabbing in the Gush Rami Levy, I went shopping and saw that our boys in olive were posted all over — at the entrance to the parking lot and inside. This made me feel both glad and sad. I am proud that we show that we are taking care of our own, but still sad that we ask so much of our youth that it makes them grow up before their time. I also worry about the ramifications for the soldiers’ psyche. Just like all of the attacks, both here and abroad, make me feel more antagonistic towards them, and less interested in what’s behind it, but rather just making it stop, I am concerned for every soldier who is forced to take a life. The protocol about how and when to fire a gun, and that soldiers and police are forced to defend themselves after even when it is clear they were in the right, serve two purposes. They protect the public, because our protectors are strongly educated to do everything possible not to kill the aggressors (despite world comments on our “excessive force”), and I think they also protect the soldiers and police force, because when we commit acts of harm, it affects us as well.
This is why, as much as the animal instinct in me says to return harm for harm, or apathy (towards our Jewish dead) for apathy towards theirs, I don’t let that instinct to smallness rule. Rather, I remind myself that by giving in to the beast, we sometimes become the beast.
Life is complicated. There are no simple answers or straightforward responses, and sometimes it is not best to follow our instincts. We need to push ourselves to higher levels and not allow our baser selves to rule — that is what the Torah is all about. The self-protective instinct still reigns, though; I would not let Syrian refugees in to Israel — there are plenty of their co-religionist countries surrounding us who have room.
In all, I find it hard to give comfort to those mourning here and in Paris, because sometimes there are just no words other than “We are with you in your sorrow.”
Also, from ‘Star Trek Into Darkness,’ some very relevant and poignant words to remember. “There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves. Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that’s not who we are.” We are the people who get together to pray, not mob, when our people are hurt. Let us continue to be a light unto the nations.