Shabbat, January 15th, 2022, parshat Beshalach will always be a painful Shabbat for Jews around the world. Many Jews spent the day following the news of a terrorist holding four Jews, including a rabbi, hostage in their synagogue in Texas. While we are all thankful the crisis ended with all four hostages escaping unhurt, the hostages, American Jewry and world Jewry weren’t left unscathed. The attack opened up painful reminders of the antisemitism that surrounds Jews in every generation. Watching the hostage situation unfold before our eyes reinforced our Sages’ teaching that there will always be someone who hates us.
The horrific drama of the unfolding terror in Texas shut out all other news stories. Everyone’s full attention was drawn to Texas. With eyes on Texas a tragedy in another synagogue across the world went largely unnoticed. A few hours before the hostage crisis began, Emanuel Fabian reported that a “synagogue, located at Ziv’s Lookout near the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Hever and the Palestinian village of Birin, was found with its entire contents burnt, including Jewish prayer books and an empty Torah ark.”
“According to Fire and Rescue services,” Fabian wrote in Times of Israel “Firefighters found several car tires inside the building, which were apparently lit on fire and hurled inside. “The findings at the scene indicate arson,” the Fire Services said in a statement. The site, dedicated to two security guards – Yehuda Ben Yosef and Yoav Doron – killed in a friendly fire incident in 2003, has seen several incidents of vandalism and arson over the years.”
Jewish sacred sites located near Palestinian population centers have a long history of being attacked. Joseph’s tomb in Shechem, Joshua’s tomb in Kfir Hares, and even the Western Wall have been targets of Palestinian violence, vandalism and even destruction. The repeated attacks by Palestinians on Jewish synagogues, tombs and people can partially explain why a synagogue being burned to the ground by Palestinians garnered little or no attention at a time when the world’s attention was focused on antisemites attacking a synagogue. People are used to Palestinians attacking Jews and Jewish sites. These attacks aren’t “news.”
I fear there is an additional, more cynical reason besides these attacks being common, that the burning of a synagogue near Hebron didn’t make the news. I fear the world, including many Jews, judge the synagogue, its congregants and those who support it, deserve to be attacked and have their synagogue burned. They are so convinced Jews have no right to live in the Hebron area that unlike the innocent rabbi and his congregation in Texas, any form of violence the Jews of Hebron face is deserved. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear I’m right.
Following the hostage situation in Texas, many non-Orthodox Jews criticized Orthodox Jews for not sufficiently identifying with their fellow Jews because they belonged to a Reform Temple. Setting aside the validity of the criticism (I believe Orthodox Jews did identify with their brethren in Texas) many of those same people criticizing Orthodox Jews for not identifying with their fellow Jews are guilty of this lack of identification with their fellow Jews in Hebron. Many people look at the congregants of the synagogue at Ziv’s lookout in the abstract. They don’t see them as humans, they aren’t fellow Jews, they are impediments to a two-state solution.
It is disappointing but not surprising that many people reading this probably hadn’t heard about the burned synagogue in Hebron. In drawing attention to it, I’m hoping to humanize a population of Jews – settlers – that all too many Jews don’t view as fellow members of the tribe.