‘These shall I recall,” we cry during the Yom Kippur martyrology service, “and I pour out my soul within me….”
Let us recall Alexander Levlovich, 64, of Jerusalem, who left his house in Jerusalem for Rosh Hashana dinner one year ago and never came home. This manager of a disabled persons’ residence was killed when his car was pelted with rocks, causing him to crash.
Let us recall Ezra Schwartz, 18, who left his house in Sharon, Massachusetts, for a “gap year” adventure in Israel, only to come home in a pine box. This child of light with a perpetual smile was distributing food to soldiers and visiting the memorial of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and killed in 2014. The van Schwartz was in was sprayed with machine gun fire that also killed Yaakov Don, 49, of Alon Shvut, and Shadi Arafa, 24, of Hebron – although the Palestinian Authority, naturally, claimed the IDF killed Arafa.
Let us recall Rabbi Eitam Henkin, 31, and Na’ama Henkin, 30, slaughtered with their four young children sitting behind them in their car.
Let us recall Hadar Cohen, 19, killed while patrolling in the Damascus Gate area.
Let us recall Ido Ben-Ari, 41, machine-gunned at the Sarona Market while enjoying life with his wife and two teenagers.
Let us recall the latest – please, Lord, let it be the last – murder victim: Rabbi Michael Miki Mark, 48, a father of 10, killed while driving his car.
Contemplate this web of anguish. Note the 32 victims unmentioned. Pray for hundreds who have been wounded. Imagine the ongoing suffering of spouses, children, parents, siblings, cousins, friends, of these people who were just trying to live their lives.
Link these 41 with the other 1,269 people murdered since 2000, and the thousands more wounded, when Ehud Barak offered sweeping concessions at Camp David and Yasser Arafat responded by leading his people toward these 16 years of stalemate and suffering.
“For wanton people have devoured me….”
I am especially overwhelmed because along with this wave of Palestinian terrorism has come a tsunami of blame against Israel for triggering the attacks – along with the usual self-blame in which we Jews love to wallow.
But I’m sorry. I know ‘tis the season for being self-critical but I cannot feel responsible for having an enemy who repeatedly undermines attempts at compromise, refuses to negotiate and targets innocent civilians. And even Israel’s critics should acknowledge that some of the targeting of those people comes from sheer Jew hatred, an antisemitism whipped up by the Palestinian national movement – independent of any Israeli actions.
I know I’m simply supposed to thank all those foreign leaders who flew over to memorialize Shimon Peres, but I just wish one of them, one time, flew over to memorialize a regular Israeli murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
In this crazy world, where Palestinian terrorism doesn’t trigger much outrage, every rabbi in every prayer service should carve out time this Yom Kippur to remember our new martyrs. Read their names, tell their stories and challenge every congregant to reach out, emotionally and financially, to the families of these 41 new victims.
And please, spare us any cloying false equivalence. In a Jewish space on Yom Kippur, remember those Jews (and non-Jews) targeted as Jews by Jew haters without adding some prayer for Palestinians, or even for other terrorism victims. Just like the martyrology service remembers the particularities of Jewish suffering, so, too, every Jew must remember the particularities of this ugly form of Jewish targeting.
If you wish to pray for all innocent victims of terrorism or of war at some other point of the service, that’s one thing. But give these victims their due: much of the world – and too many Diaspora Jews – have ignored these crimes or condemned them with “cycle of violence” language diluting the evil, ignoring the way the murderers were whipped up into an anti-Jewish frenzy and lionized for their crimes.
It’s a sin to obscure these crimes in clouds of moral relativity and blame-spreading. Palestinian terrorism stems from a toxic culture of demonization that is an obstacle to peace – and risks becoming embedded in a next generation of Palestinians.
At the same time – and I know I risk mixing my message – don’t just mourn for us in Israel, and don’t just criticize us either. Every rabbi this Yom Kippur should take time to contemplate Israel’s daily miracles, the way Israel has restored Jewish pride worldwide, the way the Zionist revolution has improved the lives of every single Jew, wherever we may live.
Palestinian terrorists wish to make Israel seem radioactive and to define Israel only through the lens of conflict.
Every Jew must master this ongoing historical and contemporary challenge: to mourn our losses, fight our enemies, celebrate our victories, and then return to Yom Kippur’s real business, which does entail an individual and communal accounting of where we stumbled and how we can improve.