We never met. When the news of your death was spread through the media on Sunday, July 20, with the added detail that you grew up in South Padre Island, Texas, my son called from summer camp to ask if I knew you.
No, I said, I did not.
But in a deeper way, I sense that I do know you. You grew up on South Padre Island, a town known for its beautiful beaches, vacation homes and Spring break revelry. You grew up a proud Jew, one of only 75 in a town of 2800 people. Being part of a small community didn’t weaken your Jewish identity; it reinforced it. The culture around you may have been light and carefree; you were focused and determined. To you, purpose and people-hood were the foundation of identity. The free-spirted lifestyle didn’t hold your interest; the needs of your people did.
It began with your parents, Alon and Dalya, who came to South Padre Island 20 years ago to pursue financial opportunity. They did well. But finances, to them, were the means not the end. Within a few years, they were part of a nascent Jewish community, searching for tradition, forging a spiritual connection. They were leaders in the group that constructed a synagogue, hired a rabbi, and built a Jewish future on land without much Jewish past. It was your parents who purchased the community’s first Torah scroll and who dedicated the synagogue in memory of your grandfather and namesake. It is clear you absorbed their passion. You developed a strong connection to South Padre’s Rabbi Yonatan and as well as to Rio Grande Chabad shliach, Rabbi Asher Hecht.
Others your age, with your talents, affable personality, mature nature, and ability to get things done, would have channeled that drive to commercial aspirations. That would have been valid, but you decided to go beyond the natural, to do something connected to the essence of who you are, to your Jewishness. You decided to spend your last high school years in Israel and join the Israeli army.
You understood this is a difficult time for our people. You appreciated that the battle of our time is no less significant and foundational than WWII; an epic battle of civilizations. On the one hand stands the Judeo credo of cherishing life, respecting the individual, and worshiping God in a peaceful manner. On the other stands an ideology whose worship celebrates death, who can make no room for other, who is empowered by terrorizing civilians of neighboring states, and who freely puts their own civilians in harms’ way in order to paint themselves as helpless victims, exploiting the sensitivities of Western civilization.
What would be a stark distinction is made blurry by a secular media obsessed with “proportionality” in body count, whose sense of justice requires that both sides suffer equally, who are experts at assessing not the morality of the conflict but the sameness of the destruction. It is an amoral approach that, had it been prevalent during WWII, would have resulted in the loss of the Allies to the Axis. (“So what if the Germans bombed London; most of the English were protected in the Underground. The Allies shouldn’t bomb munition factories near Berlin as some of our bombs might accidentally hit nearby civilians.”) As our sages taught long ago, “One who becomes compassionate to the cruel, will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate.”
Dear Sean, you were acutely aware that the battle of the day is as much to protect Israelis as to combat those seeking to delegitimize Israel. What makes it so difficult is that we stand on linguistic putty, in which language means one thing to the enemy and another to those they are convincing. “Free Palestine” resonates to the Western ear; it sounds fair enough. But when shouted by our antagonists it means “from the Jordan to the Sea,” the very destruction of Israel. “End the Blockade” sounds reasonable enough. But the reality of its impact would be allowing Hamas to bring in guided rockets from Iran against which Iron Dome would be impotent.