Earlier this week my wife, Chavi, and I concluded a most enjoyable and inspiring Yom Tov season in Israel. It included the beautiful davening on Rosh Hashanah at Yeshurun Synagogue; Yom Kippur at the Jerusalem Gardens Hotel, during which I led a joint OU/Gateways program for four hundred participants; and Sukkos, during which I served as a scholar-in-residence for Gateways at that same hotel through Shabbos Chol HaMoed.
The climax was Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah, which we spent back at our apartment, davening at Yeshurun for the evening hakafos and at HaZvi Yisrael (popularly known as Chovevei because of its location on Rechov Chovevei Tzion). In a very real sense, the chagim did not end with Simchas Torah, or even Isru Chag, but continued through last Shabbos, Parshas Bereishis.
However, the entire period, especially the past fortnight, was marred by unspeakable tragedy and general tension and unrest throughout Israel, particularly in Jerusalem. I need not provide all the details here, because so much is reported regularly in the media. However, I must point out something that should already be widely known: the media reports are full of minor and major inaccuracies and often contain blatant distortions and outright falsehoods.
Closest to me personally were the murders on the Thursday night of Chol HaMoed and the following Motza‘ei Shabbos of Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin, who were shot and killed in front of their four children; Aaron Bennett, the 22-year-old who was stabbed to death and whose wife, also stabbed, is struggling for her life in a hospital, and whose infant child is recovering from gunshot wounds; and Rabbi Nehemia Lavi, shot and killed while rushing to rescue the Bennett family. Numerous other Jewish individuals were wounded, some quite severely, by rock throwing and stabbings.
One must be absolutely outraged by the responses of so-called world leaders to these tragic events. Without exception, these attacks were unprovoked attempts to murder innocent civilians, or police or soldiers who were trying to maintain peace and order. Most egregious was the statement by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who condemned the killing of Palestinians but failed to even mention the Jewish victims of terror. A friend of mine who monitors the Palestinian media read to me the Palestinian account of the stabbings of Bennett and Lavi. They were reported as acts of self-defense against the attack of a “mob of frenzied settlers.” The fact that a two year old was one of the members of that “mob” was ignored.
There is no sign that this wave of murderous hatred will soon abate. As the brother of the murdered Rabbi Henkin said in his graveside eulogy, “It is not terror that we are facing. Terror is not the enemy. The enemy consists of human beings who are fanatically devoted to an ideology of hatred and for whom human lives, all human lives, but especially Jewish lives, are of no value.”
The enemy is a religious ideology – a very widespread ideology – that seeks to dominate the world through murderous evil. The world must recognize this and call it by its name. It is this enemy that must be fought, not abstract “terrorism.”
That’s the bad news. The good news is that with the exception of Israeli politicians – left and right – who insist on taking political advantage of the situation by criticizing the government and each other, the Israeli public is reacting bravely and courageously. Examples of this include the commitment to celebrate the chagim to the fullest, despite the deep sadness and justifiable anger. The hakafos on leil Simchas Torah, on the very spot where the stabbings occurred the previous night, were attended by large throngs, dancing and singing songs of commitment to Torah and Tzion. Such simchas Yom Tov was displayed throughout the Holy Land.