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

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15 Responses

  1. Baruch Gitlin says:

    This is a miserable situation and an excellent article. In this case at least, I think disjointed (but reality-based) observations are far preferable to profundity.

  2. YM Goldstein says:

    It would make sense for Israel to want to push the Palestinians to offer more concessions in negotiations, but Israel, for several and various reasons, seems incapable of turning the screws in this direction. This leaves only two options: agreeing to the Palestinians terms for a peace settlement, or some combination of unilateral actions and doing nothing. We need Moshiach badly.

  3. Nachum says:

    “the moral high road we occupied in the aftermath of the murder of the three”

    Don’t kid yourself. Among those who don’t hate Jews and Israel, we never lost it. Among those who do, we never had it.

    Your words on the Ukraine hit home. You can’t help but notice that the Ukrainians eagerly joined the Nazis in killing Jews. Why? Well… (Of course, one may well wonder if past Ukrainian persecution of Jews was part of what motivated the Jewish Communists to persecute them, except of course that the leader of the whole effort was Stalin, who was, of course, not Jewish- not even Russian, in fact.)

  4. D says:

    kevod harav,
    At a time that our enemies scour the internet for details to cherry pick and publicize to their followers, where a modern orthodox rabbi writing an article critizing haredim has his text lifted and posted in an anti-semitic website (as I came across recently), is there really a need to bring up the name of that deranged soviet fellow?

  5. Shmuel says:

    Thank you dear Rabbi.

    Once again, you capture in words what the heart feels but the clouded mind cannot adequately express. Am Yisrael is yet again under attack, missles reaching near and far in frightful succession. I want to believe that the extraordinary and deep “אחדות” that nearly all of us experienced so recently, and painfully, will be a zechus for us as it was in the weeks leading up to the Six Day War. It must be. Your heartfelt words have provided some comfort, as well as a path through the confusion and pain.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    Great article! The debate over the loss of the moral high ground now seems wholly and necessarily academic as the IDF seeks to protect Israel and all of its residents from volleys of rockets based in Gaza that have targeted cities well north of Gaza. We must remember that if the media coverage and professors of international law and their dubious principles, whether in Israeli or American law schools, governed the tactics of Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, FDR, and the commanders of the US AAF and Navy in the Civil War and WW2, we would still be fighting both wars or have long ago given up on any claim or desire to win.

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    Beitar Jerusalem fans sound to me far worse than NY Yankee or Boston fans during a Yankee-Boston game who have had a few too many and like to use expletive deletives to describe their opponents. In contrast, for those who view soccer as some sort of universal sport ( despite th fact that it has never caught on as a major sport in the US, except with those who don’t like American sports, as William Kristol aptly noted), if you read about how fans in Europe chanted anti Semitic slogans during the Spain-Israel soccer match, you would learn that soccer fans in Spain, as well in the UK, are known for using the soccer match as a means of venting their drunken spleens on all issues in a not always PC manner.

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that the notion that some drunken soccer fans triggered rocket launches warrants serious inquiry. That claim is akin to claiming that John Brown’s raid or American trade sanctions , without considering any other factors , were the sole causes for the Civil War or WW2. I find such logic extremely simplistic and reductionistic, especially given what he know about how the residents and leaders of Gaza have acted since the Israeli withdrawal in 2005.

  9. lacosta says:

    those of us who expected first the perpetrators to be arabs , hiloni sefardim , or kahane type settlers , are more unsettled to be facing the reality of a War that will have been caused by an atrocity that may have haredi roots — imagine that jews burned someone at the stake ,essentially. on this regard , the unbridled years of haredi demonstrations by neturei could have been an example [though admittedly this would have to be a first, loss of life]. we also have to think about the non-biblical concepts of the moral and literally spiritual [read animal souls] inferiority of non-jews in their mind superceding ‘thou shalt not murder’

    on a blood filled 3rd or 4th war in gaza, it’s hard to get the upper hand hasbara-wise in the twitter age. and since it’s during Ramadan , it’s All-ah vs Hashem…. what a mess…

  10. Bob Miller says:

    People who want to wreak havoc can always find some rationale. It’s that yetzer hara again. Those who don’t and won’t control themselves need to be held in check by others around them. Some may eventually be reachable, but they can’t be allowed to run wild in the meantime.

  11. dave says:

    lacosta – the rockets started raining down before the Arab kid was abducted. Hamas doesn’t need excuses to kill Jews.

  12. mycroft says:

    .” Jews don’t act that way. Of course, they do at times, especially if they are estranged from Jewish practice”

    Baruch Goldstein was certainly not estranged from Jewish practice and was defended by many RY.

  13. Louis says:

    Shalom, Would suggest listening/watching Rabbi Wein Speaks… In Memory of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali HY”D about 6 minutes in where he indirectly addresses “robbed our people of the moral high road we occupied in the aftermath of the murder of the three kedoshim, HY”D” as perhaps Hashem’s way of making it clear that there was to be no “benefit” from the world and this was to remain our sorrow as with the Bnai Aharon with those most closest and innocent Hashem was sanctified..(a phrase which would be interested in hearing Rabbi Alderstein’s thoughts).

    [YA – My thoughts run in the direction that Rabbi Wein usually takes: Without a navi, we can’t really know Hashem’s purpose. We can’t know if Hashem wanted us to nurse our wounds without any “benefit,” or whether a benefit He intended for us was blown through our actions or inactions.]

  14. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Mycroft, the inquiry after the Goldstein affair bore marks of PC manipulation. The apparent plan was to enable an Arab pogrom in order to induce the removal of the Jewish settlers of Hevron “for their own good”. Goldstein was known as a doctor who treated Arabs and Jews alike. He was hacked to pieces by Arabs who came to pray before sunrise carrying axes and knives, prepared for slaughter. The Arabs had also stocked up on food and medical supplies expecting a curfew after their actions. I don’t want to go into a long discussion here, but it is possible to find alternative accounts of that event.

  15. Steve Brizel says:

    I don’t see what relevance the actions of Baruch Goldstein and the reaction thereto have to do with the actions of one group of drunken soccer fans and the reaction thereto. I don’t see the need for more than the condemnation to date as opposed to a public pitty party by Israel as a way of asuaging LW public opinion.

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