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Those viral images of murdered Jews

Photos of the carnage don't illustrate a tragedy, they spark outrage -- and that's OK

As all of us were, I was emotionally and spiritually thrashed by the news we all woke up to this morning — terror in Har Nof, the murder of 4 rabbis. Gevalt. Not again.

On Facebook, the shock and horror flowed, as news updates, videos, tweets, and nightmarish images began to surface.  Though I think Israelis and Jerusalemites were particularly hard hit, you did not have to be either in order to be horrified by unapologetically uncensored images of Jewish men in tallis and tefillin lying dead on the tiled synagogue floor.

These images went viral. Facebook was covered in Jewish blood, outrage, and sorrow today.

I had a few discussions with people as to whether this was appropriate.  Should the gore of today’s Arab terror attack be fodder for social media?  There were those who were really offended by the graphic and glaring imagery, others felt it should be as public as possible.

One of my friends posted the following today:

I like to consider myself a rational human being but today I frequently feel as if my emotions are overtaking me and I feel like I’m losing my rationality; fear, anger, frustration. I keep trying to bring myself back to reality and mourn for these kedoshim [holy people] and feel the pain of my fellow Jews -our friends and family – which is what we should be doing. I see on Facebook many people posting the pictures of the tragedy which only helps to perpetuate the irrational emotions I am feeling and must believe that everyone else is being affected this same way. Why add to our pains? It does not help. Maybe you don’t realize the fact that you’re using the pictures of these holy people and this sad tragedy without considering how you would feel if it was your spouse, child or sibling lying in blood that was being posted all over the internet.

Please be sensible, these Jews and their families are our families.

I think these feelings are certainly valid, but I do not exactly hold them. I am not offended by the images, and am glad they have gone viral.

First, I think the people who post these images do not see today’s event as a “tragedy” – they see it as a barbaric, unforgivable, and disturbingly frequent crime against the Jewish people. They therefore relate a little differently to the images.  Showing images of a “tragedy” would be something like gratuitously splaying out the pictures of someone ravaged by illness, harmed in a car wreck or some other unfortunate occurrence.  Today’s murders were not unfortunate. They were terrorism.  This evokes justifiable anger in some people, and they want to evoke that outrage in others.  Censoring the images is akin to silencing them – and they deserve to speak their truth.

Secondly, I think the people posting the images actually think that total emotional outrage and severe personal discomfort are the right feelings to be having today, not something we should be working so quickly to wipe up and bury.  Let the upset fester for a while. Is it disturbing to see the picture of a Jewish grandfather lying in a pool of his own blood, after he got up early to learn Torah, pray to God, and get out while the morning was still fresh? Yes? Good. Because that happened to someone today.  Let’s take a good, long look at it.  We cannot turn away from Jerusalem’s reality – there it is, in black and white and red.

People who shared the images are not trying to assist people in reaching acceptance and mourning the dead, but rather desire to put the harsh reality in front of people’s eyes, so they cannot escape into the usual poignant and passive mourning that we typically employ. Mourning and sorrow are certainly appropriate.  But they cannot be the end of today’s story.  Our predecessors sacrificed and we continue to build this state to protect the Jewish people so that we don’t have to mourn things like this anymore.  Many people who posted the images of the murders want people to be shocked – into action, into protest, into solidarity against a cruel enemy.  Into anything but the default for the last 2,000 years – somber and soulful acceptance.

And yes, they DO think it helps. At the very least, they are not ready to say that it doesn’t. Just ask the guys at CNN and BBC who spent all summer f̶a̶b̶r̶i̶c̶a̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ publicizing images from Gaza.  You can talk about an atrocity until you’re blue in the face – it will never compare to coming eyeball to eyeball with the image.  Some people think we need to snap out of it and face reality – and these images will force people to do that.

Lastly, the toughest question – what would you do if it were “your family member”?  Tfoo tfoo tfoo, I can’t even begin to imagine the nightmare of any of this for members of the families.  In this, we are in agreement – their pain is our pain. Their family is our family.  But if I were them, G-d forbid, I think I would understand that my brethren are not sharing images of my dear departed for some sick or gratuitous purpose.  I hope that I would understand that they were doing this to express their shock and horror, to express their outrage, to hold this injustice up to the eyes of the nation and the world and force them to take it in so that maybe it could be prevented in the future.

I was one of the people who shared those images today.  I hope I never have to again.

About the Author
Malkah Fleisher is a social media activist, doula, writer, mother, wife, and broadcaster (not usually in that order!) making her life on the Mount of Olives, praying that one day both Moshiach and Target will come to Jerusalem.
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