Of Blessed Memory

I wrote some days ago about the stunning unity that was instantly conjured and globally streamed throughout the Jewish world when we heard that three young boys, Eyal Yifrach, Gil’ad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel were kidnapped.

 Eighteen days later our hearts have been torn by the tragic news of their murder.  We all grieve, not as if they were our own family, but because they are of our own family.

I have been reading all day, hardly able to focus on the insignificant noise around me.  The football is not important, the ethics associated with stripping Rolf Harris of his honour’s are not important.  The grief of a nation is important.

It is time now to grieve, and perhaps not the time to ask what is next.  We know that grief can turn to anger, and on a national scale, perhaps we are justified to be angry.  But consistently and with great humility most of the commentary I have read today cautions against transitioning anger into vengeance.

Revenge is not built into the Jewish psyche.  Justice and punishment are sought, and due process will secure this.  However article after article from Jewish leaders, religious and secular, call for a Jewish response.  That is, to perform acts of kindness, to learn and contemplate in the memory and merit of the deceased, to sanctify life, and channel our emotions for good.  Part of that involves harnessing and consolidating the unity of the Jewish people that has been seen throughout this ordeal.

How can one imagine a lifetime of parenthood being stripped away by inhuman and wanton terrorism?  The loss of those children to their family cannot be regained.  The pain will never subside.  We can only supplement the loss of their children by bringing merit to their memory.

I yearn and mourn for every mother and father that loses a child, especially to an act of war, irrespective of their religion or place of residence.  That is called true moral equivalence.  Yet I also realise that there is no moral equivalence between two societies, one that sanctifies life, and one that glorifies death.  I respect Israeli vigilance in the face of the very real fear that it could be their family next.  It could be yours, or mine, any identifiable Jewish person in any place.  The security measures necessary to avoid further tragedy are well vindicated.  Restraint must be balanced against deterrence, and is relative to the circumstance, inclusive of the 12 missiles that terrified southern Israel overnight.

The global Jewish response to this tragedy is unequivocal.  It can be seen and felt in every Shule around the world, on every Jewish person’s facebook and twitter feed, in every Jewish publication.  We express grief, we express regret, we express anger.  But we do not advocate violence or sanction terror.  Which is why, when an Australian news service publishes a headline like this, one has to ask just how wide and void is the disconnect between world Jewry and the nations around us?

 

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The media will stop at nothing to remove the humanity of the Jewish people, portray us as aggressors and de-legitimise our national determination.  Even the quote in the appended article is not a literal call for vengeance as portrayed.  Those familiar with Israeli literature will recall this as a literary expression from the famous Chaim Nachum Bialik.  This is poetry, not politics.  It is an expression of grief, albeit that the international media has communicated it as if it was a call to action.

If Judaism is a universal construct, then we must all react each and every time Jews are vilified.  We must demonstrate through action and deed, then communicate to the greatest extent possible, what our values are.  We need the world to see that we do not share the bloodthirsty culture of our enemies.

We can only reflect at this time on the tragedy.  Several memorial and learning programs have already been scheduled for the Perth Jewish community.  Let us hope we can preserve the unity and maintain it on behalf of our murdered sons.

 Rabbi Meir Steinsaltz said of his murdered students:

A dark cloud has befallen our nation today. Our hearts are broken, yet united with the hearts of the boys’ families, as we mourn and we cry with them. We cannot erase the evil. But we can create good. We can transform the world through goodness by living as Jews and acting as Jews, with our Torah and mitzvot.