Thoughts From the Emotional Maelstrom
The past weeks have not been easy, to put it mildly. I cannot recall a similar period in which HKBH placed us on a fast-moving roller-coaster, carrying us to and from such emotional peaks and valleys in so short a space of time. Eighteen days of anxious prayer and the finding of common cause with so many Jews, followed by the let-down of tragic discovery. The bursting of the bubble of national unity by both the words of an inauthentic Yaakov, and the treacherous, murderous actions of Jewish yedei Esav that heaped shame upon our sorrow. The anxiety of waiting under siege from what might rain down from the sky, while brooding over the consequences of what we all expect will be the next moves on the ground – already anticipating the condemnation certain to come from the world community. Like Yaakov Avinu, we are afraid of the prospect of being killed, and vexed by the prospect of having to kill others – but prepared for both.
No profundity here. Just some disjoint observations, mostly from others, about recent events, written half as catharsis, half as informational to anyone who has not come across some of these items.
No matter what further details emerge, the brutal murder of an Arab teen will have robbed our people of the moral high road we occupied in the aftermath of the murder of the three kedoshim, HY”D. We can find a nechama purta in a few items. At least one (unexpected) source placed our shame in a positive context. The Christian Science Monitor had this to say in an editorial:
Some countries, after a hate crime, are more prone to collective introspection than others. Israel certainly fits into that camp based on widespread reaction to the retaliatory killing of an Israeli Arab boy last week, allegedly by young Jews…[The] boy’s murder evoked strong moral calls among Israelis to live up to their ideals as a country, one founded in large part as a response to genocide…A pro-government tabloid, Israel Hayom, carried a headline that read “The Murder and the Shame.” An editorial in Haaretz stated that unless Israel undergoes a revolution of values, “the Jewish tribe will not be worthy of its own state.…” And Times [of Israel] founding editor David Horovitz suggests this remedy: “If we are to heal this nation, last Wednesday’s killing must rid us, once and for all, of the complacent illusion that we enjoy a distinctive moral superiority over our neighbors.”
Such collective contrition is rare in Israel because terrorist attacks on Arabs by Jews are rare compared with those on Jews. Yet when this national soul-searching occurs, it not only reminds Israelis to live up to a high standard, it serves as a lesson to other countries on the strength that can come from humbly looking at the social ills that push certain individuals into committing hate crimes.
Certain reforms are now expected within Israel. Antiracism teaching in schools will likely improve. Hate speech in Web forums will be better monitored. Violence-prone right-wing groups will be more closely watched.
Israel can be proud of its moral hand-wringing. The country is often held to a higher standard than its Arab enemies. That can be often unfair, but one reason for it is that Israel sets a standard on how to judge itself in those cases in which its civilians or soldiers cause harm to innocent Israeli Arabs or Palestinians. Meekness in the face of a human rights crime is a trait worth living up to, and noting.
We all told ourselves that Mohammed Khdeir’s murderers could not have been Jews. Jews don’t act that way. Of course, they do at times, especially if they are estranged from Jewish practice. (One of the most spectacular, unrepentant mass-murderers of the 20th century was Jewish. Lazar Kaganovich was responsible not only for the grain confiscations that starved millions during Stalin’s collectivizing of peasants, but he oversaw a reign of terror that included executions of he later realized were “mistakes.” He maintained that there was no god but Stalin.) We did not want to learn that the murderers were motivated by extreme nationalism.
It appears that they weren’t. Tablet reported what follows:
It was easy for everyone to be horrified by the crime, in part because there is no actual constituency—on any side—for burning children alive. Left-wingers used the story to denounce the inherent violence of the settlement enterprise. Right-wingers used it to display their moral superiority over their neighbors, who give out candy when Jews are slaughtered.
But like so many of the narratives beamed out of the Middle East by pale Western journalists who know so painfully little about the region and its inhabitants, this story, too, is utterly false. If you want to understand the gruesome murder of 16-year-old Muhammed Abu-Khudair in the hands of six young Israelis last week, don’t turn to Bibi or the Bible or Hamas or Abbas: turn to Beitar Jerusalem, the favorite soccer team of Israel’s undivided capital .
All six suspects are fanatical Beitar fans. According to an Israeli police officer familiar with the investigation, who spoke to Buzzfeed on condition of anonymity, members of the murderous cabal are all affiliated with La Familia, a small group of several thousand Beitar fans known for their anti-Arab opinions and a more general penchant for thuggery. The six met at a soccer-related rally, the cop said, and decided to expand the scope of their hooliganism as far as they could, resulting in the murder of Abu-Khudair a short while later.
To American readers, across the ideological spectrum, very little about the soccer thug scenario is likely to make sense. Violence, it’s much easier to believe, is cyclical and systemic, the product of lunatic rabbis, the evil terror-plotters and bomb-makers of Hamas, and politicians on both sides who fan the flames ever-higher in order to maintain their grip on power. …Yet if you understand soccer, and if you know Beitar, you realize that an act of extreme Clockwork Orange-style violence is an entirely possible, even predictable, outcome of the team’s fringe culture. I speak from experience: I am a lifelong, dedicated fan of Beitar Jerusalem, and during my years attending its games I’ve witnessed my share of appalling brutalities, in times of crisis and times of peace, almost always without any racial or nationalistic impetus. As far as I could tell, the aim was simply the pure, visceral, sickening thrill of violence. Sometimes, it appropriates the language of politics, attaching itself to a party or an ideology or an ethnic group. But it’s always first and foremost about soccer, about the ritualized violence that gives young and hopeless men meaning and comfort…
One such moment came in the late 1990s, when Beitar lost a crucial do-or-die match to Maccabi Tel Aviv. Maccabi plays in Ramat Gan Stadium, which is right next door to the Ramat Gan mall, one of the nation’s first and largest institutions of its kind. By the time the referee blew the final whistle, most of the Beitar fans seated next to me had come up with an instructive chant: “Burn down the mall,” it went, “burn down the mall, burn down the mall.”
Which is what they tried to do: Someone produced a few rags, someone else had a match, and before too long a horde of a few dozen fans, paintless Bravehearts in jeans and T-shirts, advanced on Ramat Gan mall’s nearest gate with destructive glee. Policemen arrived on horseback. The fans started punching the horses. Policemen dismounted to protect their beasts. The fans tried to climb into the saddle and enlist the animals in their attack. If I remember the scene correctly, and I was too terrified to pay very close attention, one of them succeeded in his quest. If you’ve seen the poster for the new Planet of the Apes film, you have a pretty good idea of what the scene looked like.
I was able to verify with sources within the Israeli government that all six suspects are members of La Familia. We still have not verified the rumors that they are dropouts from haredi families and life. There will be time later to learn whether there are lessons to be learned from mistakes made in their upbringing. At the moment we can tell ourselves and others that they represent the antisocial deviants that all communities possess.
Offsetting the massive chilul Hashem has been one woman, who seems to accomplish more with the clarity of her emunah than all others combined. Rachel Frenkel, mother of one of the kedoshim, buoyed the spirits of the country with her calls for davening when we all hoped that the three were alive. She explained what could and what could not be expected from tefilah. She showed courage at the UN, and incredible strength at the kevurah. She regained some of the lost national moral high ground in her decisive condemnation of the murder of Kheider and the sympathy she extended to his family – especially in stark contrast to the very different reaction of his mother. She greeted a contingent of Arabs from Hebron with grace and assurances of a common love for peace when they came to the shiva house to bring condolences. She has turned into a vital national asset, and an able representative of Torah refinement.
I was feeling pretty down this morning, which is not a good place when others expect you to provide them with uplift. I realized that a group of friends were under much more intense pressure – friends at the Israeli Consulate. So I asked if any of them had any words of encouragement. From Uri Reznick, the Deputy Counsel, I received a reply worth sharing. Uri would not describe himself as Orthodox, but he is traditional and more than traditional of Torah Jews and their lifestyle. He is also super-bright, and super-devoted to the Jewish people:
קטונתי. However, as an infantryman with many long nights of navigation under my belt (and worn out shoes), I would say the following: in the darkest nights, when there is no moon, every mound of sand looks like Everest and it is very easy to get disoriented and even lose heart. That’s why you need to learn the route in advance and navigate based on the overall contours of the landscape – river basins and mountain ranges – so as to avoid becoming discouraged and to eventually get where you need to go.
Acts of brutality like the murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir are a stark reminder – to those of us who needed it – of how imperfect we too, as a people, are. There is nothing like a sharp dose of humility to sharpen one’s mind. But we can’t ever allow our faults – and we have many – to obscure the basic underlying truth that we are fighting for our lives. And I don’t need to tell you: of course, we’ll win.
We will win because HKBH will provide the winning edge. Which might be more available at times to people who do not speak loudly in His name, than to those who misrepresent Him horribly. A midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim 217) on this week’s parshah struck me as even more appropriate to the current instance of misplaced zealotry and failed leadership than to the much more subtle claim against Eliyahu:
He [Eliyahu] should have said before Him, “Ribbono Shel Olam! These are your children, the sons of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, who do your bidding in this world!” He did not do so, but said, “I am exceedingly zealous on your behalf.” HKBH began to speak words of appeasement to him….He waited three hours, but Eliyahu stood by his original words, stating a second time, “I am exceedingly zealous on your behalf.” Hashem said to him, “Anoint Elisha as a prophet in your stead!…You have always been the zealot. At Shitim, you acted zealously in regard to their licentuousness.” The Mechilta (Bo) adds: “Eliyahu demanded the honor of the Father, but not of the children. ‘In your stead’ means that Hashem said to Eliyahu, ‘I cannot tolerate your prophecy!’”
Finally, as we wonder what the next stage in Operation Eitan Chazak will bring, we should remember that for many people it has already begun. Consider the following from the FB page of Tali Katz Weiss:
Reality check… Gershon was born and raised in Jerusalem. He served in the army from 2003-2006. Gershon’s unit was based in Ramallah and had a very (to put it lightly) intense service through the 2nd intifada. Needless to say, Gershon lost many friends (along with most his innocence of youth). Gershon continued to serve as a reserve, with yearly 1-2 months a year spent in the army. When the 2nd Lebanon war broke out, Gershon was called up and spent a month inside enemy lines in Lebanon. A year and a half ago gershon’ reality became mine as well when he was called up to serve in מבצע עמוד ענן. For two weeks i became a single mom of twin one year olds without an idea of when Gershon would be coming home. And here we go again… This is reality. My awesome husband and yehuda and Asafs amazing abba dropped everything, packed a bag, gave big hugs to the boys and left. I don’t know where he’s going or when he will be coming home, but I do know this- this reality, while scary and still uncomfortably unfamiliar to this Los Angeles girl, is purely an honor and a privilege. So here’s a request: pray for the safeness in our reality, pray for the safe return home of ALL the soldiers out there, pray for the safety of the holy citizens of this country from north till south. And most importantly, please take a second to have immense pride in our holy reality.
She ends her piece with words that cannot be exceeded in meaning and clarity:
מי כעמך ישראל
ה׳ ישמור צאתם ובואם מעתה ועד עולם