Judaism abhors indifference. Read the list of founders and donors of any organization that protects human, animal or ecological rights and the list has an overwhelming number of Jewish last names. Mr. Goldberg might not write a check to help Jewish children get an education, but he will bet the farm on a children’s museum or hospital. Organizations like the Peace Corps have an inordinate number of Jewish volunteers. Jews make up a high number of Nobel Prize recipients. That is because, as a stiff-necked people, we like to shake things up. We try to change things for the better.
When people convert to Judaism, they give a lot of reasons for doing so, but the love of justice and compassion, the aversion to indifference ranks right up there. No one says, “I converted because I want to give up 26 hours of my life a week to keep the Shabbat” or “I just hate shrimp.” Behind every Jew is the belief that, “I can make this world a better place.”
This has been an awful week for the Jewish people. As a nation, we plunged into the depths of mourning as parents buried Eyal, Naftali and Gilad. We were sickened as an Arab teen, Mohammad Khdeir, was kidnapped and killed in revenge. Our reactions are different, and that is what makes the Jewish people different. It took the discovery of the three bodies (one of the boys is an American) before president Obama made a weak statement. He called Mohammad’s death heinous, a strong word he refused to use when the victims were Jewish and American. All of their deaths were heinous. Our president is the spiritual and political descendent of Jimmy Carter. He believes that Jewish blood can be spilled like water, and cares nothing about the death of an American at the hands of terrorists. He is indifferent.
As a people and nation, the Jews of Israel were sickened by this act of vengeance. We are angry, and we are demanding the lawless individuals who took this boy from his family be found and punished. The words, “justice shall you pursue,” is seared into the Jewish psyche. We know we are better than that. As I write this, his murderers have been arrested. This is because, in the end, the uncle of Naftali Frenkel said it best. “Murder is murder. One should not differentiate between bloods, be it Arab or Jew.” His words echo our heartfelt beliefs. Of course, the murderers of the three boys remain at large, protected by their sick and twisted community and ideology. No one in Mohammad’s family condemned the murder of Jews, because by their very existence, Jews deserve to be murdered.
We are different. The value we place on life is different. Islam may be the religion of “peace,” but words and practice are two different things. Their leaders, at least at this point of time, elevate death and place no value on life. It is an affront to believe that Allah sanctions the murder of people based on their religion. People who really believe this are atheists. They believe they are G-d and can function in that role. We cannot be indifferent to suffering. It is not part of Jewish belief. It has no place in the Jewish mind. It cannot be part of the Jewish soul.
The final phone call from Naftali Frenkel has been released. I cannot bear to hear it, but I read the transcript in Hebrew. Each boy was told, “head down” and a muffled gunshot followed. After their murder, there was jubilation. It was the same reaction from the same community that danced and gave their children sweets upon hearing of the deaths of 3,000 people on September 11th. They are indifferent to the suffering of others, we are not; we refuse to be indifferent. No matter how estranged from Judaism we may be, that demanding little sliver of G-d in our soul does not allow us to be indifferent.
I am a teacher in an alternative school. Although I mostly teach math, I also teach U.S. history, including the civil rights movement. There are similarities between the deaths of the three boys, and a young teen named Emett Tillman.
Emmett Tillman was a black teen from Chicago who was visiting relatives in Mississippi. An outgoing young man, no one told him he was not allowed to talk to a white woman. Her husband and a relative kidnapped him, gouged out his eye, shot him, wrapped him with a weight around his body, and threw his body into a river. His body was found a few days later. Like the community in the West Bank, the people of Mississippi knew who killed this young man. Those who killed him were never properly brought to justice, because their leaders were indifferent. In their sick and twisted hearts and souls, they justified his death because of the colour of his skin. The followers of hamas (I don’t justify them with a capital “h”) justify the murders of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, and thousands of others on the basis of religion, or on failing to adhere to the tenants they impose on religion. Their murderers think out of the same brain. America is not a perfect country, but Jews have worked hard to fight indifference and we have been successful. Jewish volunteers worked hard for change during the civil rights movement. They still work hard today. They were also murdered because they felt their brothers had the right to vote and participate in the American dream. American Jews worked hard to change indifference into compassion and action.
I know all of the perpetrators will face justice. Mohammad’s will face it first because we do not tolerate this kind of behavior from our own people. We are not indifferent. We will not and do not stand idly by as the blood of our brother, no matter what his religion, colour and background is shed. The “pintele yid,” that little sliver of G-d that presents itself to us makes us care. It makes us act. It appears to us no matter how far we stray. It is a pain in the ass. It also prevents us from being indifferent, and when properly nurtured, can help us change a world.