In a few weeks, I will be 75.
I have lived through Pearl Harbor, the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Holocaust. Filled cards for the March of Dimes until Salk and Sabin, our boys, discovered a polio vaccine. Collected pennies for JNF trees, witnessing the birth of Israel from afar. Grew up in a totally segregated city of 350,000 people, African-Americans and whites, and experienced the amazing change.
I, my two sons, one daughter and two grandsons were inducted into the IDF, serving with honor. In 1988, my wife Rita and I secretly visited refuseniks in the former Soviet Union, squared off with KGB agents in Kishniev and Bendery and survived.
But today, I am petrified.
Why? Because last week, on Monday, September 16, near our apartment in Jerusalem, a mother brutally knifed her two children to death. On Wednesday, September 18, a father threw his two children off an 11-story building in Tel Aviv and then jumped himself.
The parental perpetrators were Jews; yidden bear the guilt.
We have a plague, here – and it isn’t polio. As the Officer Krupkee song in West Side Story says, we are all responsible – kol yisrael arevim zeh lezeh.
In the synagogues of Israel, prayers for the five were widely heard. Since in the Jewish year 5774 the rare reading of the Torah 10 days in a row occurs, additional prayers are possible. Sure, tefillot will help, but I think more is needed.
This devastating, heartrending epidemic must be attacked with vaccines.
For a 10-month period in 1945-1946, then-US president Truman appointed Judge Simon Rivkind of New York, a Hebraist, the Jewish Adviser to the American Armed Forces in Germany/Austria, to examine the future of 400,000 Jewish displaced persons in camps in those countries.
A paraphrase from Rivkind’s 1946 public report helps us to understand: We are not confronted merely with the relatively static corrosion of ‘our society,’ nor with the ‘harrowing’ impact of ‘personal human disaster.’ The situation Israelis face in 2013 is composed of anxiety, horror, degradation of human life and disillusionment. Our situation is fraught with tragedy which each of us must face.
The judge’s words referred to a much larger Jewish disaster, but they speak to us as well: Despite the horror which we have witnessed, despite every excuse that can be offered for the children’s deaths, despite the subhuman behavior of the murderers, our spirit to effect change is unbroken; our faith in the decency of human beings is unbroken. We must demonstrate that we have the courage to enlighten our society so that such acts, when we truly work at it, can be halted.
As simple citizens of Israel, you might feel, who are we to suggest what can be done? We serve in the army, pay our taxes, vote for our leaders – what else can we do? We need to shake off the stardust, put on our thinking caps and ask some basic questions; that’s what. How often do our social-service agencies, government and private, encounter parents with problems? Are there free psychological and psychiatric walk-in clinics, visibly marked on our streets and fully advertised, so that parents, poor and rich, have a place to turn to day and night? My fellow Israelis, fear not – hazak veamatz. Don’t be intimidated.
A SECOND definition of “petrified” according to my dictionary is “the changing of organic matter into stone via enormous pressure and encrustation.”
Indeed I see many folks with hearts of stone who protect their own skins and abodes but rarely, if at all, think of fellow Israelis. Seems our society is becoming petrified – too much encrustation of the mind and the heart. We are so inward-directed, nothing matters but us.
When Israel was a smaller country, when every citizen had a job to do to ensure the inner workings of society, there was little time for communal hardening of the arteries, the static surroundings whose pressure transforms organic matter, forcing it to solidify.
But it is in the third definition of “petrified” that I sense real potential for change: “Deprive or becoming deprived of vitality” are the dictionary’s words.
Vitality, of course, is what we each need. Start from the top. Shiva calls by the president and the prime minister have great meaning and afford visibility, but these leaders must do more.
President Peres, direct some of the millions of shekels in funds and foundations at your disposal to assemble noted individuals to think outside the box.
For a good example of outof- the-box thinking, turn to the noted Michael Steinhardt, who proposed Birthright even though all the institutions of the Jewish people, including the State of Israel, said it would not work. Twelve years later, 350,000 have come to this country on free Birthright trips. Decadent structures halting progress in human relations can be destroyed.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, order the finance minister to make more funds available immediately so that more social workers can be hired.
Sir, announce to your cabinet that we are dealing with a plague that must be neutralized and then destroyed.
Let each cabinet member who deals with parent-child relationships in any fashion delegate his or her “best brains” to think together and try to arrive at some revolutionary concepts.
Innovative solutions of this type are essential; the old concepts are inflexible and inappropriate, as last week proved.
How sad when we forget that every child destroyed is not just a family loss but a loss to the future progress of the world.
YES, I am petrified, but fear has not overwhelmed me. My heart of flesh is not turning into a heart of stone; there are millions of others like me out there, overflowing with vitality, ready to lead and be led. As Robert Frost wrote: “I took the path less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”