I am unsure where to begin. Two tragedies over the past two weeks – one in our community and one in Jerusalem. The horrors happened. As Jews, we respond collectively – as a community, and as a people. We provide support, comfort, and love for those left behind. In many ways, that is the greatest tragedy. In these two cases, twenty-eight children lost a parent(s) – in a split second. And, they will all grow up forever in the shadow of what happened.
I am sad. I am angry. And people are hurting. What happened in Portland and at the Har Nof synagogue was tragic!
In Portland, our community came together after the horrible murder-suicide of a local divorced couple. Without going into the details out of the respect for the victims’ family, Portland Jewish Academy, along with other Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and rabbis, came together to offer counseling, support, and care for the children and their classmates. We should be proud of the response and the sensitivity exhibited from the beginning.
In Israel, a country came together. In fact, Jews around the world came together. Four men in a synagogue during morning prayers, in their teffilin and tallit, were murdered and others injured when two Israeli Arabs entered the synagogue wielding guns, axes, and knives. Police came to the scene and killed the two assailants. Unfortunately, the Druze Israeli police officer first on the scene was also killed.
Despite all of this, our response is to call for calm – not retribution. Certainly there is anger. Unfortunately, some people cheered.
As Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in The Atlantic (Thank you to Rabbi Joshua Rose for initially sharing this article), the terrorist group Hamas endorsed these killings. A Hamas spokesman said, "The new operation is heroic and a natural reaction to Zionist criminality against our people and our holy places. We have the full right to revenge for the blood of our martyrs in all possible means.”
Goldberg further writes, “Twenty years ago, shortly after the Jewish fanatic Baruch Goldstein massacred Muslims at prayer in Hebron, the then-prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, said of the killer, "You are not part of the community of Israel. ... You are a foreign implant. You are an errant weed. Sensible Judaism spits you out."
We should pray for the day when the leaders of Gaza react to this sort of massacre in the manner of Yitzhak Rabin.
Some reported that this horrific scenario was motivated by perceived threats to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which has the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has repeatedly stated that the current guidelines, non-Muslims can visit but not openly pray, will not change. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, however, warned of a “holy war if it is 'contaminated' by Jews."
Many will use the phrase “cycle of violence.” Sadly, the situation in Portland was a continuation of violence. But in Israel, some believe events build one on top of the other. At some point, this is too easy of an excuse. As my sister would say when we would fight as children, “two wrongs may not make a right, but the second wrong sure makes you feel better.” Har Nof was singularly wrong. And none of this should make anyone feel better!
Unfortunately, the Mayor of Ashkelon did not help. He ordered a halt on construction of bomb shelters in the city’s preschools to prevent Arab workers from entering the city. Mayor Shimoni said the decision was a temporary one. Immediately, political and religious leaders from across the spectrum spoke out about the decision. As the Jerusalem Post reported, Prime Minister Netanyahu said Thursday, “There can be no discrimination against Israeli-Arabs. We must not generalize about an entire public due to a small and violent minority. The vast majority of Israel’s Arab citizens are law abiding and whoever breaks the law, we will take determined and vigorous action against him.”
Israel's population is about 20 percent Arab, the vast majority of whom co-exist peacefully with their fellow Jewish Israelis. These Arabs are mainly descendants and members of families who, upon Israel's rebirth as a modern country in 1948, remained in their communities. As a result of staying in Israel they enjoy a higher standard of living and more religious, economic, and social freedom and opportunity than any other Arab population in the Middle East. Funds raised by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland have helped provide opportunities for Israel's Arab population and underwritten programs to strengthen co-existence between Israeli Jews and Arabs (see sidebar).
My mind is still spinning from all of this. The haunting stories will never go away. The photos will live on forever. Children have lost their parents for no good reason. And I just sit and shake my head about what could be next.
May we all have a quiet Shabbat and peaceful days ahead.