Thursday, July 24, 2014

War is hell. And Gaza is hell right now.

When you hear or see a report on the radio or TV about the suffering and death in Gaza, please don't reflexively shut it off, thinking that it's "anti-Israel".

Yes, we can, and should, stand with Israel during this fight. Yes, Israel is in the right here.

But that doesn't negate the tremendous human suffering on the other side. It doesn't change the fact that children are being killed by our bombs, even if Hamas did put them in harm's way. It doesn't mean that innocent people aren't being killed, wounded, and displaced in massive numbers.

We should continue to cheer on our side, but we should also remember that war is hell, and there's nothing good about it.

Israel is doing what she has to. But there are ugly consequences to the actions she has been forced to take, and we cannot diminish our humanity by ignoring that. As Jews and human beings, our empathy should extend across enemy lines.

So next time a report from Gaza comes on, force yourself to listen. And care.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Time to remove Hamas

I hate to say it, but if Israel is already launching a ground invasion (which I'm ambivalent about), they should do it right.

Any cease-fire or agreement to withdraw that leaves Hamas still in power means nothing was accomplished in the long run. We'll just have to do the same dance again in two or three years. And even during the supposed quiet, Hamas will continue taking potshots at communities like Sderot.

Removing Hamas from power entirely will leave a power vacuum that Israel may have to fill. And I hate the idea of our troops having to be there long-term again. But if it's done right, maybe it can return Gaza to normalcy and quiet, and with Hamas out of the picture, perhaps even set the stage for a peace agreement in a couple of years.

Whatever happens, I pray for the safety of our soldiers and of all innocent people.

Monday, July 7, 2014

There will never be peace if we insist on a "warm" peace

Dreams of "peace" tend to be farfetched. If peace means warm relations and no tension ever, and if that's the goal of negotiations, then negotiations will never lead anywhere. Various Israeli governments talk about "difficult sacrifices" in return for "peace", but the implication is always that the only peace worthy of those sacrifices is a everlasting / kumbaya / we all love one another type of peace.

A more realistic goal is basically a perpetual truce. We can call it a "peace" agreement while being aware that it would be a tough agreement where most people will be unhappy, and where there will still be tension and even occasional violence. But if we're ever going to get out of the current endless cycle, we have to understand that even that kind of peace may be worth some "difficult sacrifices". And hopefully, that might even, over time, progress to a warmer peace.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Masonic society using Hebrew year on old Building in Hartford?

I found this building in downtown Hartford, a few blocks away from my work.

Any ideas what this was? Why did this society decide to use the Jewish year? (תרנ"ד - 1894) What was the significance?

Here's the whole building

At some later point, it must've become the Law Tribune building.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Why we mourn Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali

I have a confession to make. I don't feel the death of the 3 boys in Israel as deeply as some of you seem to.

Don't get me wrong. It's terribly sad. And the way they died is tragic and horrifying. And when I think of the parents, I realize I can't imagine what they're going through.

But I haven't cried. I haven't made tribute videos. I haven't felt like I'm in deep mourning. I haven't filled my Facebook wall with their pictures. I simply wrote "BDE", and expressed my deep and sincere sympathy for the families.

I didn't know these boys. They were strangers. As a fellow Jew, I feel deep sympathy for the families.. But I don't feel like I lost a family member myself.

I want to tell you about two other young people who lost their lives in Israel recently. Their names were Yishai Levy (11 years old) and his sister Sara Levy (10 years old). Somehow, their deaths hit me harder than those of Naftali, Eyal, and Gilad. Maybe it's their ages. Maybe it's because even though I didn't know them, they lived in Columbus, Ohio, where my wife and I lived for a few years and where she taught in the day school the children later attended. Or maybe it's the particularly heinous way in which they died - their mother sent them off to Israel for the summer to visit their father, her ex-Husband. Their divorce had been a particularly bad one, with deep bitterness. On the night they arrived, the father stabbed his own children and killed them.

Is the manner in which Yishai and Sara died more horrific than the way Naftali, Eyal, and Gilad did? There's no scale to measure such things. The mothers of all these young people are locked in deep grief right now. And there's no reason to make it any sort of competition.

But I do have a greater point to make. What I want to analyze today is not my own reaction, but the reaction of Jews in general, particularly Israelis and religiously involved Jews overseas. Why was one tragedy so front and center, and the other all but ignored? This isn't a polemic and I'm not calling anyone to task. But I think this question is worth exploring, because the answer may shed some light on how we view ourselves and our tribal allegiances.

Before I get to that, I'd like to tell you about a few of the other young people who were tragically murdered over the last few weeks.

Gina Burger, 16, Pennsylvania, USA
Murti & Pushpa, 14 & 15, Uttar Pradesh, India
Amanda Hill, 16, North Carolina, USA
Jed Coates, 18, Sydney, Australia
Cheyanne Bond, 17, New Jersey, USA
David Headlam, 18, London, UK
Michael Patton, 17, Illinois, USA
Yeliani Schwartz-Ojeda, 3, Florida, USA
Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, 16, Jerusalem, Israel
Alexis Kellas, 9, Virginia, USA

Why aren't we crying over them? Why aren't we in deep mourning?

That's an easy one, unfortunately. It would be debilitating to spend all our time focused on all the tragedy in the world. Innocent people and innocent children are killed on a daily basis. We just don't have the emotional capacity to absorb it all. So what do we do? We naturally focus on when a "family member" is killed, someone who is part of our religious, social, or ethnic tribe. In the case of us Jews, that usually means someone else who is Jewish. And I'm taking no one to task for this. It's simply human nature, I wrote at the start of this post that I don't seem to be feeling the deaths of the three boys as much as some of you. But I definitely feel it more than I feel for anyone in the list above. When one of our own is killed, we mourn.

But what about when those who are killed ARE our own? A father and his 7 year old daughter drowned a couple of weeks ago in a terrible accident north of Tel Aviv. Why aren't we engaged in mass mourning for this little girl like we are for Naftali, Eyal, and Gilad?

One simple answer - accidents happen all the time. But the three boys were murdered, not killed in an accident. They were taken from us deliberately. So it's not simply the death of a young Jew that unites us in mourning, it's the heinousness of the manner in which they died. They were murdered in cold blood.

Then why aren't we engaged in the same mass mourning for Yishai and Sara Levy? They were Jews. They were killed in Israel. They were part of a religious community in the US and attended a Jewish day school. And they were murdered in a particularly heinous and disturbing manner. Why aren't we crying over their deaths to the same degree?

One answer is that the three boys were only killed after a couple of weeks of prayer and desperate hope, so there was a build-up. And when their bodies were found and all hope was lost, the dam burst and all the emotions came pouring out in mass grief.

But I don't think that's all there is to it. There's another factor, one that speaks to our self-identification and self-definition.

Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar weren't just anyone. They were young people taken before their time. And not just any young people, but members of OUR people, fellow Jews. And they were't killed just anywhere, they were killed in Israel, our homeland, where we should have a right to feel safe. They weren't just killed, they were murdered, and in a particularly heinous manner.

And finally, they weren't just brutally murdered, they were murdered by them.

The enemy.

The other.

A good part of our grief is anger. This wasn't a murder in isolation, but the latest in a long story of our enemies wanting us dead, wanting us out of what they view as their land. In our eyes, Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali represent all of us, We mourn because those who killed them wanted to make a political statement, and they viewed any Jew in their land as an enemy.

Our mass mourning is a mass cry of anger and defiance. It's an emotional thrust against the enemy.

Sara and Yishai Levy were killed in a horrific manner, by their own father, A father who, we must assume, had deep emotional and psychological problems. But the greater conflict in that case was only between a father and mother in a bitter divorce dispute. It was not nation against nation, people against people.

The three boys, however, are seen as representatives of all of us. We are all engaged in a struggle for our land. Almost all engaged Jews believe in the right of Israel to exist, only disagreeing on where the borders should be drawn. And we see the boys' murders as an attempt to push us out, to tell us that we have no right to be there, that we have no claim to nationhood, and that Jewish blood is cheap.

We see it as an act of war.

And when one is attacked in an act of war, one circles the wagons and strikes back against the enemy, both physically, as Netanyahu is doing, and rhetorically, as we have all seen in mass media and social media. That is why some have reacted in unfortunate calls for mass reprisal.

Without the larger context of murder and national struggle, most of us wouldn't have been mourning them at all. If Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali had been killed in a traffic accident on the very same road where they were taken, the mourners would have only included their families and friends. We, strangers, wouldn't even know their names. There would have been no funeral with tens of thousands of people. There would have been no tribute videos, foreign representatives of diaspora communities paying shiva calls, no mass grief.

It's been only four days since we learned of their deaths and this is the first Shabbat since then. We will turn off our cellphones, TV's, radios, and computers. We will be disengaged from the national mourning for the first time, engaging only with our families and neighbors.

Let us take a deep breath and for just a few hours, try to disengage the greater context of how they died from the actual loss. We wouldn't have known their names without the greater context, but since we do, we can try to mourn them and their actual lives. These were 3 promising young men taken from us far too soon. Let's try to mourn their loss the way their families are.

When we sit at our Shabbat tables, let's remember that for 3 families in Israel, there will be an empty seat, and remember the boys. While we do that, we can also think of Karen Levy, the mother of Yishai and Sara, looking at the empty seats at her Shabbat table. And if we can spare a few moments, let's also think of the families of Gina, Murti, Pushpa, Amanda, Jed, Cheyanne, David, Michael, Yeliani, Muhammad, and Alexis, all looking at the empty seats at their own dinner tables.

Let us daven for peace, for a world where no more young people need die, anywhere.

Shabbat Shalom

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Even now, Israel is a safe place

You remember all the suicide bombings in the 90's and the early 00's? Remember the constant terrorism? Remember innocent people being killed every few weeks?
I think that we've gotten used to living without that constant threat, without that constant barrage of attacks. The very fact that people are reacting in a hyperbolic manner and demanding mass murder of civilians as revenge is itself an indication that we've forgotten how to react to terrorism.
There is no silver lining to this terrible tragedy of the 3 boys. But perhaps there's a silver lining to people's inappropriate reactions. It reminds us that Israel has become far safer for civilians in the past decade. We are no longer numb to all the death. When the kind of terror that we used to experience on a regular basis returns, we react in a way that shows our raw sensitivity. It shows that, small comfort it may be to the mothers of these boys, Israel is, Thank God, a relatively safe place to live or visit.
May Israel stay safe, and may we never have tragedies like this again.