The Hebrew words for “son” and “daughter” – ben and bat – are directly related to the terms for “home” and “building” – binyan and bayit. The underlying message is that our children are the essential “building blocks” of our homes, both on a personal and national level. They are the darlings of society, the hope of one’s family, the link between our past and our future.
At the same time, the Hebrew word for “child” – yeled – contains within it the word dal, which means “poor” or “vulnerable.”
Though human beings are the most advanced and sophisticated of all creatures on earth, they are also among the most fragile and helpless. A newborn giraffe or puppy begins to walk, feed and fend for itself in a remarkably short amount of time, even days or hours; but a child is almost totally dependent on the assistance of others for several years. Thus, we have to guard, nurture and protect that child in an intense, ’round the clock fashion – as if their very life depended on it.
Conversely, the abuse and murder of children is among the most shocking, despicable and perplexing of all crimes.
With absolute horror, we recently beheld, within the span of just 72 hours, an unprecedented outrage in Israeli history: the brutal slaying of four young children by their parents. First, it was a recent immigrant from Moscow who stabbed to death her two children, aged seven and five, in their Jerusalem home, before attempting to take her own life. Next up was Eli Gur, who, in an apparent act of revenge, assaulted his ex-wife, grabbed his two children aged five and four, and drove them to Tel Aviv. There, he threw them to their deaths from an 11-story building, before jumping off himself and committing suicide.
Add to this the not-infrequent killing by Arabs of young people who seemingly violate the “honor” of their families, as well as the numerous incidents of negligence by parents who forget their infants in the backseat of their cars, and you have a shocking epidemic of the newest brand of “kids at risk” – ironically at the hands of those who ought to love them the most.
What is the pathology that turns a parent into a perpetrator? I asked that question to Dr. Shimon Peretz, a psychologist in Israel’s prison system. He remarked that such behavior in women generally stems from severe depression and anxiety – indeed, the Moscow mother was divorced, in severe financial straits and did not consider herself to be a fit mother – while in a man it is more a case of “extreme narcissism,” which results in violent anger at anyone or anything that impinges on his perceived needs and desires.
This condition is named for the mythical Greek youth Narcissus, who was so enamored with his beauty that he pined away staring at his own reflection in a pool of water. Thus the man’s own children, rather than being a repository of his selfless love and affection, become pawns to be used primarily to massage his ego – “Look at the great children I fathered!” – or to further his ambitions – in this case, to cause unending grief and guilt to his ex-wife.
While I certainly accept these clinical evaluations, I suggest there is another, more pervasive flaw in society at large that makes the unthinkable possible: a general lack of concern for the sanctity of human life, every human life. Though our tradition teaches that every human being is a world unto himself or herself – and so saving one life is tantamount to saving the entire world – we clearly do not always act that way. Too often, we take chances with people’s lives – our own and others – and are willing to risk life and limb for the pettiest of reasons.
Anyone who drives a car is nodding their head right now in agreement; we have all seen normally rational people undergo a major transformation when they get behind the wheel, becoming racecar drivers who are prepared to endanger themselves and their passengers for one measly car-length. The results are scattered all over the landscape: a wheel here, a body part there.
Most galling are the flagrant, criminal actions of motorcyclists, who show absolutely no regard for the law or for their fellow citizens.
They cut through crosswalks, they run red lights, they drive on sidewalks and go the wrong way down one-way streets. To our shame, in 99 percent of the cases, we do absolutely nothing to stop them, to report them or even to castigate them for their arrogance as they speed by.
Though many, if not most of them will end up in an ambulance at one time or another – when I was chaplain in a hospital, we called their vehicles “donor-cycles” – they will injure untold numbers of innocents until they finally harm themselves.
We cannot broach this subject of irresponsibility and non-compassion without returning to one of the great evils currently in play in Israel: The freeing of murderous terrorists who have buckets of blood – the blood of our children included – on their filthy hands. Even as I write this, our government is contemplating freeing yet another batch of sadistic hoodlums, all in the name of a misguided attempt to “soften up” our erstwhile “peace partners.”
Not only do such decisions make criminal acts eminently more acceptable – “After all, why should I sweat driving down the sidewalk when some other guy killed 26 people and goes free?!” – but it has a chilling effect on the sanctity of human life. If you can wantonly walk into a cafe or a bar mitzva and slaughter whole families, and then triumphantly walk out of prison with hands and head held high, what does that say about the worth of the victims? Parents – good parents, as the majority of Jews and Israelis are – put their heart and soul into the life and upbringing of their child.
They invest, happily, untold amounts of energy and money and time into seeing that their boy or girl grows up right and has a chance to make his or her own way in the world. When someone takes away that chance, in an act of hate and terror, there must be a huge price to pay.
Otherwise, the conclusion that society draws, on some level, is that the child was never worth it in the first place.
I could, sadly, take 1,000 cases in point as an example. But just one will bring the point across. Malki Roth was a precocious, pretty, talented young girl of 15 when she walked into Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant on that fateful day 12 years ago for a slice of pizza. A suicide bomber was waiting, and blew Malki and 14 others – including seven children and a pregnant woman – to pieces. Literally.
The facilitator of that massacre, Ahlam Tamimi, reacted with smiles and unadulterated joy when she heard the news, wishing only that more Jews could have been killed or maimed in the attack.
Two years ago this month, this obscene she-devil – who had been sentenced to 16 life terms in prison – was freed in the Gilad Schalit debacle. She became an instant celebrity in the Arab world, was given her own television show in Jordan (the “good” Arabs, so I’m told), and now encourages as many Palestinians as possible to follow her example and aspire to, as she puts it, “collect the skulls of Jewish children.” Inexplicably, to add insult to injury, her fiancé and fellow terrorist, her cousin Nizar Tamimi – also freed in the Schalit deal – was allowed by Israel, against the conditions of his release, to join her in Jordan.
I picture Malki today, somewhere in the highest of heavens, playing her instrument and caring for other souls. But we on earth were robbed of this beautiful child, first because of the murderers in our midst, and second because those who purport to lead us didn’t believe her life was all that valuable and did not respect the family who loved her, as much as they respected a failed policy of appeasement.
This week Jews throughout the world will read the Torah portion of Noah. One of Judaism’s most fascinating characters, Noah is the only person to be called a tzadik, a righteous person, by the Torah.
Many ask what Noah did to deserve this sterling approbation; after all, he failed to convince any of his neighbors to reform and by so doing, avoid the devastating deluge. The answer is simple: Noah saved his family. And anyone who can raise, and save their beloved children can rightly be called righteous, and can serve as an example to society to do exactly the same.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana