I join with the Jewish people and the State of Israel in mourning the deaths of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrah. Their deaths have everything and nothing to do with politics. Just three boys, three sons of parents, three precious souls, taken in an act of senseless cruelty and violence. Three Jews, three Zionists, three citizens of the state of Israel, murdered probably because of their commitment to all of those ideas and commitments.
My family asks me: why does the world hate the Jews, single out the Jews in such iniquitous fashion? I cannot adequately answer that question because I feel that all rational explanations still fall short of the mark, fail to capture the irrational nature of anti-Jewish prejudice. But Jews have often looked to the past and to the future for consolation and direction, so consider this.
In a few weeks the world will mark the centennial of the outbreak of World War I, in effect the birth of the twentieth-century. Since scholars consider Second World War II in important ways to be a continuation of the first, it boggles the mind to contemplate the tens of millions of lives lost, the ferocity of the conflict, the political violence and immorality and oppression loosed upon the world by figures such as Stalin and Hitler and forces like Bolshevism and Nazism. It takes no great insight to feel that humankind lost–deservedly so–some elementary confidence in itself, based upon what humans showed themselves capable of doing to one another. We need to continue to work hard to restore a belief in ourselves, to believe that we’re capable of large and small acts of kindness, via acts of caring for each and every single precious individual, and acts of service to the public good.
If, as many of us intuitively feel, that Jews in spite of our small numbers somehow often manage to find themselves on the center stage of history, consider the following. Compare Jewish life today to the condition of world Jewry in 1914. Today most Jews live in two great states, Israel and America, two democracies, two free societies of opportunity and intellectual and cultural vitality. A century ago many Jews lived in poverty or perilously close to it, much of world Jewry lived in oppressive states like Tsarist Russia, most Jews lacked the physical and political means to defend their human dignity. As the great historian Yosef Yerushalmi often pointed out, history always remains open. Life involves change. Who of us would return to Jewish life in 1914? Who in 1914 could have imagined the world Jewry of 2014?
Now turn to the future. When we ask ourselves: why does the world single us out, investing so much negative energy in us, we’re asking not just a socio-historical question, but really a more personal question. Why should I continue with this people? How can I get past my fear of what might happen to me because of my attachment to this people? Is my commitment worth it? Each of us must answer that question for him or herself. But if history is any guide, we will continue. We will survive and I hope thrive because of our ideals and our belief in the dignity of what it means to be human and to be created in God’s image, endowed with freedom and free will.
The earth is stained with our blood, the blood of precious souls like Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal. But we as a people will endure, and the enemies of justice and mercy will not. Hang on to our belief in values of truth and goodness and righteousness, they will carry us. Peace be upon them. May their families be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. May we continue together to bring God’s presence into this world.