The news earlier this week about the 3 teen boys in Israel calls for some words. I will speak some words on Shabbat, but not everyone in our shul comes on Shabbat. Because the story riveted all Jews everywhere n the world outside Hollywood, Broadway, and Times Square, I write to our congregational community some thoughts.
As you know, I am not like other rabbis. Other rabbis — my colleagues throughout America — are preparing sermons for this Shabbat about pain and suffering, whether G-d hears our prayers, and the general “How long, O G-d, must we endure this?” kind of stuff. I am not that kind of rav. I know that many people like rabbis whose sermons go the safe road. Then again, as Consumer Reports just published on their study of ice creams, studies repeatedly show that most Americans prefer vanilla. For me, sure, vanilla is OK. But the Jews who founded and created Haagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s, and Baskin-Robbins understood that sometimes the moment calls for greater complexity.
I am capable of feeling deep sadness. I quietly broke down in tears at a funeral eight weeks ago. But this week I am not consumed as much by sadness as I am filled with anger, even quiet controlled rage. And the rage I feel is targeted not so much at the Other but at my own.
The Koran compares Jews to monkeys and apes. http://www.frontpagemag.com/2010/dov-fischer/who-chose-hamas-to-lead-them/ The Arab population of Gaza, in a free and democratic election certified as fair by Jimmy Carter, selected Hamas to be their representatives and voice. The Arab population of Judea and Samaria are comfortable being led by two terrorist movements, Hamas and the Palestine Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. Mahmoud Abbas is a terrorist in a suit. He is known by an underground war name, Abu Mazen. A Cat in a Hat still is a cat. A terrorist in a suit still is a terrorist. All because he has white hair and spectacles, now in his seventies, does not mean that he is less of a terrorist. It just means that he is a terrorist who probably wakes up in the morning with a sore back.
Ever since its creation, the Palestinian Authority continues educating its population to hate Jews and to want us dead. They run summer camps for children where, instead of baseball and arts & crafts, they teach children to shoot rifles and to kill Jews. Their television and radio advocates destroying Israel. Their newspapers run crossword puzzles that negate Zionism. Their children’s television “Sesame Street”-type characters advocate killing Jews. They name streets and avenues and town squares for people who kill Jews, This is who they are, what they are.
We need only look around the Mideast to understand what they would do to us if they could. See what Sunnis now are doing to Shiites in western Iraq. See what Shiites do to Sunnis in Iran. See what Sunnis do to infidels in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. See what Alawites do to Sunnis and Shiites in Syria. See what Sunnis and Shiites do to Kurds in northern Iraq, Berbers in Algeria, Blacks in the Sudan. See what Shiites do to themselves in Iran. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2507355/Slashing-chained-blades-bloodied-Muslims-including-young-boys-flagellate-themselves.html It takes little imagination to understand what they would do to us — if they could.
When I was rabbi at a previous congregation, I was asked several times to do certain things that violated my conscience. I knew the consequences I might face if I said “no.” I also knew that I am not a “company rabbi,” and that I live with my conscience every day. So I said “no.” Ultimately, I paid a price. But I won the respect of my grown and growing children and of my wife, the respect of many others including those who did not follow me from the comfort of bricks & mortar, and I maintained my own self-respect. In the end, I emerged much better off because I stood for conscience. Sometimes someone must say no.
The Government of Israel repeatedly has failed to say “No” when conscience demanded saying “No.” Too many times, Israel has acceded to demands, pressed by American Presidents and Secretaries of State, to release hundreds upon hundreds of convicted murderers and other convicted violent felons — in their hundreds — in exchange for the release of an Israeli hostage or two or three.
Even though John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden — and the President —have been among those pressing Israel under the Obama Administration, it is important to note that pressure has been bi-partisan in the sense that Israel also faced pressure under Republican administrations. Perhaps the worst was when James Baker was Secretary of State under the elder George Bush. Interestingly, though, America never has been as eager to engage in prisoner exchanges back home. Nothing and no one seems capable of persuading America to release Jonathan Pollard, and the recent uproar over the unprecedented release of five Al Qaeda murderers in exchange for Bergdahl has reflected how foreign such thinking is to Americans or to any normal people.
When a country repeatedly — for more than thirty years (I was in Israel in 1985 when Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir released 1,170 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for three Israelis) — sends the message that no murderer will be executed, that no life sentence will be a life sentence, that even murderers sentenced to multiple life sentences will be released in a few years in a hostage exchange, then I believe this alters the mindset of already-deranged murderers, practically inviting them to take hostages. And that is why, more than feeling sadness, I feel great anger. Because I believe this did not have to be.
To clarify facts and misconceptions — The boys were all good boys. They were not horsing around or “hitchhiking” in the American sense of standing along a country road and thumbing a lift. Rather, as those of us who have been to such communities in Israel know, they were at a community-established ride-sharing location. They were the best of good boys at yeshiva, and they were traveling home from school, I believe for Shabbat. The idea is that, if you are in a car and driving, you first stop at the ride-share location to find out whether you can give anyone a lift. In this case, my information is that the two Hamas terrorists drove a car to that location late at night, induced the boys to help them with a car problem, and then grabbed them and pushed them into the car at gunpoint. You all know what happened afterwards.
What now to do, in the aftermath? A good question. I know what we Jews do not do: it is despicable to respond by grabbing an Arab teen, killing him, and burning his body. In fact, it is so un-Jewish to do so that I still await results of the Israeli police investigation to determine whether it really was a deranged Jew who did that, or perhaps someone else. We shall see. But it is striking that we Jews — everyone from the Jew at work to the Prime Minister and the religious leaders, people like me, instantly call that deed despicable and alien to Judaism. If only Arab and Moslem leaders, political and theological, had come forward to condemn the kidnapings of the three boys. . . .
So, what to do? It probably is a good thing that I am not Israel’s Prime Minister, because this is what I would do:
1. I would send the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) right now — actually, several days ago — to re-arrest every single living person whom Israel ever has released in any hostage exchange in the past thirty years. I would re-arrest them all (except, of course, for those who are deceased and for those who are outside Israel’s reach). I would announce that all past hostage releases were premised on the understanding that there will be no more kidnapings. You have gone back to Square One, and so have we.
2. I would make clear that, from now on, any time an Israeli is taken hostage, the IDF will grab as many as that number of members of the political leadership of the Palestinian Authority. And I would do it. You take two Israeli teens; we take three members of the Palestine Authority cabinet.
3. I would form a Prime Ministerial Special Committee to study steps for reunifying the area, Gush Etzion, into Israel (just like East Jerusalem). The world would call it “annexation.” I would call it “reunification.” The world will scream, but they will scream anyway. They will scream if we make soda pop. The Presbyterians will pass resolutions, but they will anyway, and Hoag (Presbyterian-funded) still will employ Jewish doctors. Right now, John Kerry is dealing with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Iran building a nuclear weapon, Putin annexing the Crimea and probably moving on Eastern Ukraine, a Marine in Mexican prison, a hundred thousand kids without parents coming across our southern border from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; and the rest of the Government is dealing with Lois Lerner’s emails, Hobby Lobby and birth control, the National Labor Relations Board and Presidential recess appointments, NSA surveillance, Veterans Administration hospitals, and other things. It is a good and propitious time for Israel to begin studying reunification of Gush Etzion.
4. I would announce construction permits for the building of 3,000 or 300 (whatever the logistics maximally can handle) housing units in the Gush Etzion region, where the boys studied Torah and were kidnaped, in their memory. I would name the new Village or Town for the boys.
As I said, it is probably is a good thing that I am not Israel’s Prime Minister, because that is what I would do, besides any military response that my experts would advise.
A final word — about prayer: We prayed for these boys. Those prayers were heard in Heaven. Many of those prayers — probably all — were recited after the boys were murdered. The prayers of Israel are heard in Heaven, particularly when recited in a minyan. The prayers accumulate. Sometimes they are answered immediately. Sometimes the answer is “No, not now, not this time, not this day.” Sometimes, the prayers accumulate for weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, even millennia. We prayed two thousand years for a return to Jerusalem. Some probably thought the prayers were not being answered. They simply were impatient. The answer they did not hear was: “No, not now, not this time, not this day.” But in 1948 Israel became a country with West Jerusalem as its capital. Many then thought that, finally, the prayers for the return to Jerusalem had been answered. But they were too hasty. In 1967 East Jerusalem, too, became restored. The prayers continue, and more restoration lies ahead.
We Jews believe the soul is immortal and that life, for those who merit it, will be everlasting. The prayers for the three boys redound to their souls. They died as good boys, going home to their parents for Shabbat. They died as martyrs for Israel. Their souls will be blessed. They yet will see the greater restoration for which they innocently and unexpectedly gave their lives. They will live. We will live. If history teaches anything, it teaches us that: the People and Nation of Israel Lives and will continue to live, and our endurance will not abate.
Rabbi Dov Fischer
Rav, Young Israel of Orange County
5319 University Drive ( # 122 )
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 551-1515 (Rabbi’s Office)