Monthly Archives: November 2015

Broken Hearts

Into how many more pieces can an already broken heart break? How many more times will we awaken to the news of innocent souls being slaughtered? How many more times will we get into bed, agitated by profound injustice and unspeakable loss, and lay awake endlessly reviewing the horrors of a story we cannot get out of our heads?

This week ends and we are so close to the chasm. The carnage of Paris continues to haunt us. But we mustn’t forget Boko Haram, who murdered 32 people the other day in Northern Nigeria.  In the perverse universe of destruction, Boko Haram has killed more people (6,644) in terror attacks during 2014 than any other group. Another group of killers attacked in Mali this morning where the death toll is now in the 20s…

And then we get word of the killings in Israel. And one of the five murdered is Ezra Schwartz, a Jewish kid from Sharon, a Maimonides grad, and a longtime Camp Yavneh attendee. The sadness we feel for all victims of senseless violence is suddenly weighed down by an immediacy of intimacy. Maybe you didn’t know him, but someone you know did. You look at his photo and realize that maybe you saw him somewhere. Or you know someone to whom he was related. It becomes personal.

The sense of powerlessness through all of these killings is overwhelming. How does one stop a nihilistic movement of people who don’t value life? How do we even talk to them, reason with them, when clearly they have no interest in dialogue?

I don’t pretend to know how to tackle these issues, nor do I expect anyone else really knows what to do right now. But here are a few things that do make sense to me.

  1. Learn about these groups and their ideologies. The more I understand, the less I end up overwhelmed by these forces beyond my control. I know I can’t prevent terrorism, but knowing the players keeps me from feeling clueless and ignorant about my world.
  2. Do not use these incidents as a reason to disparage all Moslems. It’s tempting to label every Moslem as a terrorist or sympathetic to terrorism. But it’s just not like that. Boko Haram, ISIS, al-Qaida and others may use religious terminology, but a) they are each very different and b) they aren’t religious movements. They are about vengeance and hate and greed. They are about the basest human drive that seeks to destroy for the sake of destruction, the drive to show one’s power through terrifying people, raping girls and women, kidnapping, murdering, blowing up ancient temples and statues — essentially the opposite of human decency. They may call out Allah’s name when committing a crime, but that truly has nothing to do with the nature and beliefs of the vast majority of Moslems.
  3. Do not lash out at refugees. I know we’re all feeling impotent in the wake of all of these acts of terror. But we mustn’t respond by lashing out at this defenseless whipping boy. Suggesting that in the midst of the madness in Syria that refugees are bad guys because one ONE! Of the terrorists used the crush of Syrians fleeing for their lives to infiltrate France is pathetic. To further suggest all Moslems wear identification badges is indecent. Yes, prudence is necessary when vetting refugees. And we will continue to be prudent. But to block refugees from any country due to being Moslems is a shanda.
  4. As horrendous as this recent round of terrorism in Israel may be, it would be foolhardy to conflate it with ISIS. To confuse the two is to create even more obstacles for any kind of resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
  5. Don’t give up. It is tempting to run for cover and pray that the world will just go by and leave us alone. But it doesn’t work that way. More than ever, this is one small planet – Ezra’s death underscores that point. All of send our condolences to Ezra’s bereaved family.
  6. And don’t give in to what is called in Hebrew sinat chinam, which is the denial of another’s right to exist, the belief that he or she contributes nothing valuable to this earth. That attitude is an affront not only to the other person but also to God in whose image this person is created.

Antoine Leiris lost his wife and mother of their 17-month-old son in the Paris attack. As such he has the right to scream and rant and we have the obligation to listen. But he did not rant. He wrote a piece in response to his deep loss which appears below, to which I can only say “Amen.”

“On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.

So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.

You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with a suspicious eye, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost. The player still plays.

I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago.

Of course I am devastated with grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short-lived.

I know she will be with us every day and we will find each other in the heaven for free souls to which you will never have access.

Us two, my son and I, we will be stronger than every army in the world. I cannot waste any more time on you as I must go back to [my son] who has just woken from his sleep.

He is only just 17 months old, he is going to eat his snack just like every other day, then we are going to play like every other day and all his life this little boy will be happy and free.

Because you will never have his hatred either.”

Grande for Me

I spent my childhood surrounded by Christmas. Christmas lights, Christmas trees, Christmas ornaments, and Christmas music. Every store I entered. Every supermarket. Every restaurant.

Everyone who saw me wished me a Merry Christmas. “What are you doing for Christmas?” “Have you been naughty or nice?” “ Is Santa coming to visit you?”

In school, we had the requisite Christmas trees and red and green and Christmas concerts. There were no other Jewish kids in my school from kindergarten through 4th grades. Just me.

Being the only Jewish kid around at Christmas time was a painful and lonely experience that never got easier. I tried not to get too gloomy. I sang all the Christmas songs, carefully mouthing the name of Jesus rather than singing his name aloud.

I was a stranger in a strange land. That’s what it felt like every Christmas of my childhood. The whole scene didn’t belong to me, and I didn’t feel quite safe enough to say so. Of course, being the son of a Holocaust survivor did not exactly help me adjust to the situation. I was raised in a Christian country.

I’m not asking for sympathy or reparations. The fact that I am Jewish and the majority of Americans are not is simply a fact of demography. But I did sometimes wonder: did it have to be so ubiquitous, so over-the-top? Was there not someplace besides the synagogue where I could find some relief, some recognition that I was different?

It is so laughable to hear Americans claim that Christmas and thus Christianity are under siege in our country. The red cup I get at Starbucks that has no ornaments or trees on it is the smallest acknowledgement that there are others in this country that don’t accept Jesus as the Christ.That maybe to say “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas” is, in fact, a more American gesture because it is more inclusive.

Each and every American has the right to be accepted for who and what they are. The disabled have the right to expect that they will be able to get to a bathroom and find a stall that can accommodate a wheelchair. Minorities have the right to get a job even if their skin color is not white, even if they speak with an accent. Gays and lesbians have the right to get married. We who are different than the majority just want to be treated with dignity and sensitivity.

Being inclusive is not the end of Christianity. Starbucks and their red cup is not an attack on Christmas ( by the way, on YouTube there is a clip  from a guy ranting about how unChristian Starbucks is; his name is Joshua Feuerstein…? That’s got to be an interesting story). Being inclusive is just the right thing to do. It is the open arms of acceptance, which is the true theme of the holiday season.