A Jew in the World
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor
I woke this morning to a world further from peace. Rage fills so many hearts, mine included. There must be room for this. We are grieving our children, killed in cold blood for being Jews. I see my own children's faces when I see the many photos of Naftali Frankel z"l, who was16, Gil-ad Shaar z"l, who was 16, and Eyal Yifrach z"l, who was 19.
I rage at the inhuman humans who murdered those boys. My boys.
I woke this morning, barely able to open my eyes. I prayed with fever that the nightmare consuming the Jewish People was truly imagined. The sadness, the anger, the despair, the resolve in my aching heart each grew beyond description.
I woke this morning fully aware that I am a Jew. That shouldn't be such a surprise, as I'm an active rabbi whose commitments to Jewish living and learning define my life. But there was something different about waking up Jewishly today, even for me.
I am spending time this summer at Camp Ramah in New England, teaching Torah, singing, playing, schmoozing, learning, and reconnecting with hundreds of truly amazing Jewish children and adults. This is an inspired community which I am deeply committed to help build, as much of the person I am today is the product of the 24 years I've shared at the Ramah Camping Movement.
When we received the heartbreaking news of the boys' bodies being found and identified yesterday, I was in the midst of teaching 14-year-olds about Jewish tradition's many responses to the human experience of an unfair world. They watched their teacher lose composure and weep, lost as a Jew in the World, this profoundly unfair world in which Jewish children are murdered for being Jewish. My heart's raw pain was on display, and I can only express gratitude to my students for themselves suggesting that we conclude our learning with prayers in memory of Eyal, Gil-Ad, and Naftali. "From my students," teach the rabbis, "have I gained much wisdom."
I managed, during those first moments of shock, to clumsily share with them what I will attempt to express in these few words:
Among us at Camp Ramah are many Israelis, some of whom are counselors, swim instructors, teachers, and leaders in our community. Among us are Jews of many "brands" in the American and global Jewish landscape. Among us are Democrats and Likudniks, Yesh-Atidnikim and Republicans, Avodah-niks and Independents. None of that matters. As my friend and teaching colleague Yona Goldman out it like this: When my arm hurts, my leg feels it too. We are one Jewish family. We always are, though we sometimes forget.
There are some in our Jewish communities who feel distance from Israel. For me, that is unimaginable. It is the same, for me, as saying that I feel a distance from my own heart. I pray for a reconnecting of the Jewish People, a stronger weave of our souls. My deep commitment to every human being is based in the visceral experience I have always been blessed to know as part of the Jewish family. We must be there for each other unconditionally, even when we argue, even when policies that must change haven't yet changed, even when the peace and security we need are sought through wildly different equations.
I leave for Israel in six days, participating in a journey planned with purpose many months ago but suddenly much more urgent. I'm going home. I land right after Shiva for Gil-Ad z"l, Eyal z"l, and Naftali z"l ends.
I wish to wake tomorrow to a world that's more fair. But I'm prepared to respond as a Jew in the world to a world that is not.
I will hold my children even tighter through my tears.
I will teach them and my other students the complementary Jewish values of recognizing the divine in every human being and protecting our Jewish sisters and brothers. The universal and the particular are always a graceful dance in Jewish tradition. Phrased bluntly: I mourn as a Jew for every loss in the human family, but for my own children...
I will wake tomorrow and every day after as a proud and strong Jew in the world, connected inextricably with my People.
I will wake tomorrow wounded and hurting, ready to heal and be healed.
May we know better days.
May the families of Gil-Ad z"l, Eyal z"l, and Naftali z"l be comforted by God, their families, and their People.
May no child suffer like this ever again.