If Only

To re-read Rachel Fraenkel’s words in a New York Times report that appeared mere hours before the discovery that her son Naftali and his two friends, Hashem yinkom damam, had been murdered is to experience anew the shattering moment that accompanied the first reports of the discovery.

Confiding to a reporter her belief that the kidnapping would “end in a positive way,” she took care to add: “Not that I don’t consider other things. I’m not in denial. If I have to fall apart, I’ll have time to do it later.”

The time, to the anguish and agony of us all, came.

I was on the phone with a colleague discussing an important legal development when I heard a mid-sentence gasp on the other end of the line, and thought I sensed tears. Although no official word had yet been released, my colleague had just received an alarming e-mail and informed me that some news sources were reporting a “development.” Suddenly the legal issue had not the slightest importance.

It was astounding how so many Jews so far removed from one another – geographically and otherwise – came together in hope and tefilla during the weeks the boys were missing. “Prayer vigils,” wrote a Forward reporter, “united even those not prone to praying.”

And no less remarkable was the broad and resounding collective moan of mourning after the unthinkable became reality. It was the sound of an entire people’s grief.

And for those of us who understand that the murdered boys are not only victims but kedoshim, there was particularly painful poignancy in the subsequent revelation that the first clue about their fate was a pair of tefillin found inside the burned-out Hyundai believed to have been used in their abduction.

Some Jewish readers were outraged by the New York Times article in which Mrs. Fraenkel was quoted. Headlined “After West Bank Kidnapping, 2 Mothers Embody a Divide,” it could have been seen as comparing the mother of the Israeli boy with, lihavdil, the mother of a boy, Mohammed Dudeen, who was shot and killed in Dura, a town near Chevron, when he hurled stones at Israeli soldiers searching for the abductees.

But I don’t concur with the exercised readers. It’s the role of a journalist to report, not take sides (even when an issue is lopsided), and there was no tilt toward the Arab woman in the piece. Quite the contrary, the facts reported spoke for themselves, and more loudly than any opinion piece could have done. Not only were the kidnapped boys portrayed as the innocent yeshiva students they were, but Mrs. Fraenkel, by her words, showed herself to be a paragon of sensitivity and compassion. Expressing how “extremely upset” she was when she heard what happened in Dura, she told the Times, “I really don’t want any Palestinian to get hurt.”

By stark contrast, the Arab mother wouldn’t even concede that a kidnapping had occurred, insinuating that Israel had staged the abduction. She kvetched about the fact that Mahmoud Abbas hadn’t visited – “Our prime minister can’t come to offer condolences? Shame on you.” And she said that if she bears a new son, she will name him Mohammed. “All pregnant women in the neighborhood,” she said, “will name them Mohammed.”

(A subsequent New York Times piece, the day after the discovery of the murders, quoted the mother of one of the men identified by Israel as a kidnapper/murderer. She promised that she will educate her grandchildren “to be for jihad… [to] be as their father, to be fighters and to be martyrs.”)

And that, of course, is the crux of the essential issue here, the “asymmetry of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” that the first article asserts some see – though not the way they see it.

The asymmetry lies in the embrace of hatred, unconcern for life and celebration of violence that characterizes so many Arab residents in Yehudah, Shomron and Gaza; and the will for peace, cherishing of life and distaste for violence held by most, if not all, Jewish Israelis.

All of Klal Yisroel is in mourning this week; none of us, even if we had never before June 12 heard the names Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar or Eyal Yifrach, Hy”d, feels that they are anything but our kerovim. May Hashem grant the families, and us all, nechama.

It is not uncommon for aveilim to imagine “if only” scenarios – “if only he hadn’t taken that route,” “ if only I had suggested she see that doctor,” “ if only we had pressed him harder to take that advice…”

I have my own clock-turning-back fantasy here. If only the two suspected murderers, when they were younger, had attacked some soldiers with rocks, like the boy in Dura, and been dispatched to a place very different from the next world of their imagining… Three pure-hearted boys would be in a beis medrash studying, or on the way home for a Shabbos with their families. Instead of in their graves.

That’s anger speaking, of course. And anger doesn’t yield good things. What will yield us good things here is another set of “if only”s. The sort that focuses on the future. If only we seize this national tragedy to become better Jews. If only we look inward, tease out and address the personal faults that prevent us from being better parents, children, siblings, spouses. If only we aim to daven every day as we have over the past weeks. If only…

We can’t change the past. The future, though, is another matter.

© 2014 Hamodia

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