In the week before Purim, the news from Israel of the horrific murders of the Fogel family in the West Bank community of Itamar momentarily transported me back to a visceral sense of sickly terror.  It’s been nearly three decades since I was awakened by a break-in while I was sleeping in my apartment. I was lucky – the intruder had come to steal and not harm, and he fled. But I still seize up with fear when I recall the moment when a strange man began to enter my bedroom.

 

Tragically, the evil person who entered the Fogel family home came with the most sinister intention. As they slept, the murderer brutally knifed them to death. Mother, father and three children were brutally murdered, leaving two surviving children. I can’t imagine the horror of the scene for those family members that night.

 

The expressions of unspeakable sorrow across Israel and the Jewish world were immediate and intense. The 20,000 people assembled in sympathy at their funeral gave testimony to the impact of this loss and the flood of grief that overflowed all over Israel and the Jewish world. Our hearts are filled with anguish.

 

This heart-wrenching loss was exacerbated by the fact that the murder was a political act.

Cruel violence in any circumstance is very traumatic, but this murder was meant to send a message and generate fear. This act of terrorism set off a firestorm of reaction within Israel and the Jewish world. Yet, the nature of that “message” has itself become the source of vigorous debate and disagreement within Israel and the Jewish world.

 

Some in the Right in Israel and America saw a lesson in this—that this murder was the result of the Left’s demonization of the settlers. They decried the delegitimization of the settlements in the West Bank perpetrated by the rhetoric of the Left. These voices, they claim, have created a climate that made the settlers targets. To their Palestinian adversaries, they countered with the phrase “they kill we build.”

 

The rhetoric came from the Left, as well. Some have taken this tragedy as an opportunity to drive home their view that the Israeli government’s stance regarding the West Bank and the occupied territories is poisoning the well of peace. They decry the settlements as illegal, and point to the settlers as radical, sometimes even violent, setting the stage for this type of vicious attack.

 

The recriminations flew wildly back and forth. This is very troubling to me. Here we are, a small, vulnerable people a generation away from the most evil, unspeakable violence brought upon any people, and we are ripping ourselves apart. Why is it so that we feel so weak and endangered that we turn on each other in blame?  Is this response a reflection of our most terrifying fear – that Israel’s future is at risk?  Why can’t we see that we need each other? Why can’t we support each other in our grief and in our fears?  Why are we so afraid to listen to each other’s worries and concerns?

 

In the zealousness of the Left and the Right, both sides have taken to staking out immutable positions. It’s become a morality battle.  In our pain and fear, we have demonized not only our enemies who harm us, but also our own family.  I was raised on the soothing and fulfilling words of “Am Yisrael Chai,” the “Jewish people lives!” This motto gave a newly empowered generation of Jews a sense of great possibility, courage and hope.  How can we sustain those feelings in an environment of accusations and demonization?

 

No matter how right one group may perceive their cause to be, resolution may only be attainable when they allow for the complexities to be present between them. Yitzhak Rabin understood this when he offered peace to the Palestinians after decades of violence.  A fanatical rejectionist murdered Rabin for this position. What lessons did we learn from that terrible day?  We should have learned the dangers of rhetoric that assumes absolute rightness and fails to acknowledge complexities. The danger to the Jewish people is that we will tear ourselves apart. How could a severely divided Jewish people have the capacity either to negotiate for peace or to hold the peace in the meantime? We need to foster the type of mutual respect that will strengthen us.

 

We need each other – we are family.  Let’s take a step back, draw in a deep breath and acknowledge that there is great complexity in Israel’s predicament. With mutual respect, let’s honor each other’s grief and fear. May our unity honor the memory of the righteous and blameless who have died because of cruel violence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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