About three weeks ago, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by terrorists (well, one was technically American, but the news is still dismaying). Hope of returning the boys to their parents dissipated when their bodies were found yesterday. This sad news was overshadowed by the Supreme Court ruling on contraception and the World Cup, but the news wouldn't and didn't get past the Jewish people. The Jewish people, religious and secular alike, were appalled, mortified, and dismayed at what happened to these three teenagers.
My initial reaction was not quite that way. It was one of hopelessness and increasing apathy. It felt like the cycle of violence in that part of the world was never going to come to an end. "Hamas and Fatah will never stop hating Israel. It's just the way things are. Plus, murder is an unfortunate facet of human existence. It's statistically bound to happen. Any murder is a hate crime because it shows the individual's lack of respect for the dignity of man. The more things change, the more they stay the same." That's how I felt when I first heard the news.
Then I had some other thoughts that ran through my head, ones that were more along the lines of moral indignation. "Not only did they commit murder, but they maimed these young, innocent teenagers simply because they were Jewish. There are still people out there who hate Jews for simply being Jewish. Antisemitism is alive and kicking, and we shouldn't become numb and passive simply because it's reality."
So how is one to react?
First, if you feel that you need to go through a mourning or grieving process, go through the cycle. One has to process the hurt and loss that comes with this sort of tragedy. This is a fortiori true if you personally knew the victims.
As for the Israeli government's reaction, that one is trickier because international relations are inherently so, especially in that part of the world. Throw in halacha, and it's even more complicated. Normally, I would cite Berachot 10a and say that we should pray that the murderers repent for what they have done. However, murder is such an egregious act that not even teshuvah is particularly going to help in this case, and not simply because it is considered one of the seven Noachide Laws that even non-Jews should follow. Why the egregiousness? One of the prerequisites in the teshuvah process is being able to ask the individual you wrong for forgiveness. This doesn't work in the case of murder because the victim that needs to be recompensed is no longer alive. In Judaism, only the victim of a crime or sin committed bein adam l'chavero can grant forgiveness. Since the victim is unable to do so, murder is unforgivable and no matter what the perpetrator does, he can never fully atone for this particular sin. It's why murder is one of the three sins for which a Jew should rather martyr himself, and it's why the Torah proscribes the death penalty (Numbers 35:31), even though the death penalty has not been enacted in ages. Also, it's not as if this were involuntary manslaughter, for which the Torah proscribes a different penalty. This was callous, first-degree murder. Normally, I would not advocate the death penalty, but assuming that hell exists, there is a special place in hell for these ingrates to burn because they have squandered whatever divine potential they might have [had]. Once the Israeli government tries these suspects in a court of law, and if they find them guilty, I would have no problem with the death penalty in this case, given the heinousness of the crime.
If it were only an issue of a hate crime, I would confine the moral indignation to the murderers. However, Hamas fired rockets into Israel again, and given that Fatah recently formed a coalition government with Hamas, that makes the entire Palestinian, governmental entity culpable. It's as if Hamas were provoking Israel into war, at which point Israel would naturally be blamed by the vast majority of the international community because that is the pervasiveness of the anti-Israel bias in much of the world. Whatever response the Israeli government is, it needs to be firm and resolute. Offhand, I don't know what that should look like in practice, and I don't know how that will end up. What I do know is that Israel cannot continue to turn the other cheek, and the Israeli people should pressure its government to act accordingly.
Aside from that, the Jewish people should double down. What do I mean by that? For those of us not living in Israel, we should be more ardent supporters of Israel. Buy Israeli goods, send tzedakah Israel's way, act as advocates of Israel by informing the greater world as to why Israel is an overall good country that is worth protecting. Whatever is in our power to do to help, we should do.
We should also remember that these scoundrels murdered Jews simply for being Jews. Instead of shying away from our Jewishness, we Jews should double down on that, as well. If you haven't been observant in a while, I ask that you find a mitzvah, a single mitzvah, that you find meaningful, and incorporate that in your lives as a way to honor the memories of these boys. If you are practicing mitzvahs, find one that could use some work or find a way to enhance it, and do this life-affirming act to honor their memories. Even for those of you that are reading this and are not Jewish, I ask that you join the Jewish people in solidarity because murdering someone simply for who they are, regardless of religion, is unacceptable.
The best way for Jews to honor these slain individuals is to show that we value life and that will continue to hold to the values that make the Jewish people a light unto nations. I hope that the Jewish people find strength and unity in this tragic moment in order to affirm who we are, what we stand for, and that anti-Semitic scum of the earth cannot so easily get rid of the Jewish people. Am Yisrael chai!