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Mourning Together

July 1, 2014 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

We are a people who treasure life, surrounded by those who revere death.

The grief is intense. It is a tragedy beyond words. The news of the death of the three kidnapped youngsters turned the Israeli nation to weeping and brought caring people around the world to communal mourning.

For 18 days heartfelt prayers for their safety ascended to the heavens. Tears were shed, Torah was studied, candles were lit, Shabbat was begun earlier, mitzvot were added, masses of concerned individuals attended rallies of support. All, it seems now, to no avail.

The lives of three innocent holy young boys trying to come home from their yeshiva to their family for Shabbat were brutally murdered. And all of us try to come to terms with a horrible event that leaves us devastated and, from a theological perspective, profoundly perplexed.

How could this have happened?

There are no sufficient answers. Our faith must overpower our confusion. Our belief must be stronger than our questions. As the Jewish philosopher Ibn Pakuda put it long ago, “If we could understand God, we would be God.”

It is not a time for simplistic responses, nor is it a time for foolish assertions that this tragedy must of course be punishment for some collective failing that in no way can have any logical bearing on these innocent victims.

Jewish law goes a step further. We are not permitted even to offer consolation in the presence of the deceased. We need to respect the time when pain is too intense to even listen to crumbs of comfort. Let that come later. Perhaps then we might be able to discover some peace in the knowledge that as martyrs these youngsters have earned everlasting reward in the world to come.

For now I can think of only one reasonable response. Instead of blaming God for His unwillingness to accede to our prayers we need to acknowledge the sinfulness of those whose perverted reaction to evil made this tragedy possible.

Perverse Symmetry

In what must surely rank as one of the most bizarre coincidences of newspaper headline timing, on the very day the bodies of the three teenagers would subsequently be discovered, the New York Times gave front-page treatment to their kidnapping. For two weeks prior I wondered when this self-defined newspaper of record would give proper coverage to the horrifying story of the kidnapping. At last the Times decided the time had come. Not mind you as an anguished expression of sympathy for the victims of an unjustifiable crime against humanity but rather as a belated effort to place this story in the context of the contemporary holy Grail of “evenhanded and balanced journalism.”

There were two pictures side-by-side. The caption underneath them said simply: “Aida Abdel Aziz Dudeen mourning her son Mohammed, killed by Israeli soldiers. Right, Rachel Frankel, whose son is missing.”

At last the Times was able to do what has become standard practice in all of its coverage of Palestinian terrorism and violent attacks against Jews. Always look for “balance” to create a story that seems to consist only of “victims on both sides” in a liberal fantasy of political correctness and moral relativism that refuses to ever label evil by its true name.

Two mothers wept. One for a missing child whose fate was still unknown but guilty of nothing more than a desire to come home from school for Shabbat. The other for the son who disobeyed her orders and joined a horde of youths hurling stones at Israeli soldiers attempting to find the kidnapped children.

For the Times not to perceive the profound difference between them beggars belief. There’s only one response that is appropriate for the attempt to create this ludicrous symmetry. It is the famous words of Joseph Welch at the McCarthy hearings in 1954 when, in utter disgust and dismay at the Senator’s distortions, cried out, “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

The Death of Klinghoffer

Just a few weeks ago we saw a perfect illustration of this perverse view in a different context. The Metropolitan Opera scheduled a production of The Death of Klinghoffer for next season. Klinghoffer, you will remember, was a wheelchair-bound Jewish- American passenger on a cruise ship hijacked by the PLO. The hijackers shot him in the forehead and chest and then forced the ship’s crew to throw him and his wheelchair overboard. If you find it hard to believe that this is a suitable narrative for an opera, be assured that John Adams who wrote the music and Alice Goodman who penned the English language libretto believe its theme requires the rapt attention of everyone interested in contemporary events. As the Times explained it when in a lead editorial it condemned the Met for giving in to the complaint of critics who labeled the play anti-Semitic and canceled its simultaneous worldwide televised simulcast, the play is important for “allowing us to see both sides of the issue and to understand the perspective of the hijackers.”

You see, for the New York Times, thugs who murder a cripple in his wheelchair also have a point of view. Who are we to say that their act of violence, committed out of desperation and with complete conviction for their cause, doesn’t deserve our understanding? As for Lisa Klinghoffer and Ilsa Klinghoffer, the daughters of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, who anonymously attended the world premiere of the opera in New York City, the matter seems to be far less morally ambivalent. The Klinghoffer family released the following statement about the opera: "We are outraged at the exploitation of our parents and the coldblooded murder of our father as the centerpiece of a production that appears to us to be anti-Semitic.”

Evil doesn’t need to be understood as much as it needs to be condemned.

Somehow the Times can’t understand the simple truth that evil doesn’t need to be understood as much as it needs to be condemned.

So with its “Klinghoffer mentality” the Times set to work putting the kidnapping story into the kind of perspective that wouldn’t allow pity for three Jewish families weeping for their children.

Read the following sentence at the outset of the story and ask yourself if the editors haven’t lost any claim to decency or to civilized dialogue: “More than two weeks after the abduction of Naftali and two other Israeli teenagers, Israel’s security crackdown has raised questions about the asymmetry of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and the value of lives on both sides.”

Now read that sentence today, knowing that the young boys returning from yeshiva were murdered – while the young children of Palestinians were given sweets to celebrate the joyous tidings of their capture and taught to turn the agony of the three Israeli families into a jubilant three fingered salute.

Yes, this is an ideal time to reflect upon the difference between the value Israelis and Arabs place upon life. While the head of Hamas “blessed the hands of the heroic kidnappers,” Israeli surgeons used their hands to heal the wife of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas secretly ensconced in a Tel Aviv hospital.

We are a people who treasure life. We are surrounded by those who revere death and rejoice in killing. That is why the moralizing of the New York Times and the liberal media is so appalling to us. That is why our pain is so intense that this time.

And that is why we must find the courage and the faith to direct our anger not against God but against those whose unwillingness to denounce evil is the key to our present suffering.

May the souls of my beloved cousin Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach be a source of blessing for their families and for all of Klal Yisroel.

United in Grief: A compendium of articles and reflections


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