On a Sunday morning 43 years ago, four African American girls - Denise McNair, 11, Addie Mae Collins, 14, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14, - were murdered by a bomb that was exploded in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Several months after the cataclysmic attack, Rev. Martin Luther King sent the grieving families Christmas letters: "In the midst of holiday preparations," he wrote, "my thoughts have turned to you. The fact that this is a time when family bonds are strengthened makes the loss you have sustained even more painful."
Then he added, "Many of us are giving up or severely limiting our celebrations this year in memory of the great sacrifice you have made for the cause."
HIS WORDS struck me. In the nearly five years since my own child was murdered in a similar bomb blast of hate, I have never heard an Israeli leader express sentiments like those of Dr. King. On the contrary, the messages our leaders have consistently given are much like those I heard on April 17, Pessah, after a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv killed nine innocent people.
On the day of the attack, our newly elected Knesset members were gathering to be sworn in. As they headed proudly down the Knesset corridors to the ceremony, several of them were approached by journalists for their comments. One after another they repeated the by now familiar refrain: We must continue with our plans. We must proceed with our lives. We mustn't let the enemy sense that he has hurt us. Because that is precisely what he wants.
There is nothing new in this attitude. After every terrorist attack that Israel has suffered, similar words have been uttered by our politicians and journalists. The pride they feel in overcoming any melancholy sentiments is tangible.
When did this mantra evolve? It is so deeply entrenched in the Israeli psyche, gripped as tightly as gospel, that it is never questioned. But is the path of impregnable normality truly ideal?
FOR THOSE of us who cannot avoid grieving, who cannot don the shield of normality, that mantra is a painful one to hear. It tells us that we are very alone. It says our brethren will not allow the murders of innocent Jews to interfere with their lives.
Remember, we are speaking about vast numbers. More Jewish children have been murdered in the current intifada than at any other time since the Holocaust; hundreds upon hundreds of them. Should our goal be business as usual at a time like this? Does our approach actually weaken the enemy - or does it weaken us?
There was a time when the Jewish attitude toward death was empathetic. In Sefer HaHassidim, which dates back to the Middle Ages, we are instructed: "Upon entering a certain city, a father told his son not to kneel and kiss him in the synagogue on reading from the Torah, as was the custom, because there were many there who had no children. And he instructed his son thus in order to spare them heartbreak."
Elsewhere in that same tract we are warned not to walk with young children in sight of someone whose own child has recently died because that would remind him of his pain.
IT DOES not demand much delving to appreciate how pop-psychology has affected our attitude to grief. As concepts, "closure" and moving on have been widely marketed in self-help manuals and the mass media. Grief has become a nuisance in societies that place self-satisfaction and consumerism at the top of their priorities.
But in Israel there is an even more concerted effort to dull empathy for terror victims. In this country the memories of terror attacks have the power to stymie political agendas.
When the pain of murdered children is kept fresh, how can the public be convinced that the time is ripe for territorial concessions? So long as the shock and images of terror massacres are still vivid, how can the public be lulled into accepting the release of terrorists from prison?
To our leaders, I would like to say: One day of sirens and speeches is not enough. Remember the terror victims throughout the year. Invoke the Jewish traditions of centuries past.
Or take a page from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Empathize even when the inviting tug of normality beckons and perhaps you will be guided to more reasoned decisions.
The writer's daughter Malka Chana was murdered at the age of 15 in a terror attack on the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem. Together with her husband, she established the Malki Foundation to provide practical assistance to families home-caring for a disabled child.
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