An Innocence Lost: Time to Step Up

It is 4 in the morning. I lay on my bed with a pen in my right hand, a note-pad on my chest, and thoughts surrounding me; this scene is all-too familiar. I sit on my bed in near-complete darkness; my roommate, sound asleep. The faint sound of passing cars on the distant roads leaks through the wooden frame of the window of my fifth-floor dorm-room. I know that, in roughly thirty-or-so minutes, I will hear the first prayer call of the day for the Muslim population here. I feel claustrophobic, tightly surrounded by an amalgamation of feelings and questions. Yet, although I may be full of questions, I can ask but one: 




I have found that over the past month-or-so, I have asked this question many times; probably too many times. While the question may vary in context, and ultimately in meaning, I find that the question has become a natural reaction to sorrow, even despair; it is a cry to G-d. I asked it after Poland, and tonight, I find myself asking it again.



I'd like to start by discussing my feelings of the situation - matzav - in Israel. As many of you know, a little over a month ago I spent a week in Poland on a trip with my Yeshiva. It was during that time that the new round of violence picked up pace, and plagued Israel with a full head of steam. People were being stabbed nearly every hour of the day; the streets were empty, stores remaining shut all day. Collectively, however, we rose together. My Facebook was flooded with moments of hope: A picture of a soldier in uniform hugging his mother again after a long week of guard-duty; stories of students going and passing out candies to our soldiers in order to let them know just how appreciated they are; the list goes on, and on, and on. However, and although it may not surprise anyone, there was something missing: a reaction. While Jews around the world were furious, crying out in hope of a response, their screams were a shout unto a great abyss of apathy. We merely engaged in a screaming match with the wind, with the result all too familiar: a victory for the wind. And as I sat on my phone on the bus in Poland reading news updates from Israel, one question in particular kept looping in my head:


Where is the world?


Why is the world not crying out? Israel is at the forefront of the fight against Radical Islamic terrorism, the same type of terrorism that the United States faced on 9/11, and the same type of terrorism that the world is attempting to fight right now, yet we in Israel seem to receive no sympathy. "Does the life of a Jew matter?" I constantly asked myself.


Maybe; but I guess we just matter less.


When I returned from my trip to Poland, things died down a little bit; it seemed as though some sense of "normality" had returned to Israel: people were repopulating the streets of Jerusalem; tourism was picking up again, and life seemed a little bit more fluid. However, I was wrong. The stabbings resumed, car-ramming attacks picked up, molotov cocktails and rocks were being thrown at cars at all hours of the day, and people were being shot. Yet, once again, the world remained largely silent.




Western-World, maybe you simply do not hear about the attacks that happen here on a daily basis. Maybe it is that your condemnation of attacks may make you seem biased in favor of Israel, something you are trying to stay away from. Perhaps it is that you are afraid you may upset the Arabs of the world by actually admitting that Israel has the right to defend itself and that these attacks, a result of indoctrination and incitement, are the fault of the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian Authority alone? 


Or, maybe you genuinely believe that these attacks are the fault of Israel and the Jews, believing that, as the State Department and the Obama Administration seem to, Israel carries as much fault for these attacks as the Palestinian leadership does. That, "both sides" have an obligation to take steps to de-escalate tensions, as though the Israelis are at fault for being stabbed, shot, murdered and maimed by our neighbors. As though stationing soldiers at checkpoints throughout Israel is an "escalation.” As though protecting ourselves is a moral violation. 


However, as upset as I may have been about all the terrorism, and the reaction - or lack thereof - from the Western World, nothing prepared me for when everything truly hit home, and I lost my innocence in this conflict.


Thursday, November 19th, was the day I was hit by a hard dose of reality. While taking a short break from learning at around 1700, I received a notification on my phone about a shooting that had taken place in the Gush region, (located in Judea and Samaria); an 18-year old American was critically injured. I reacted quickly, sending a text asking two of my friends who study in that area if they were alright; thank G-d, they were. I was nervous, even shocked. "I'm an American studying in Israel," I said to myself. "It could have been me." It wasn't, it was Ezra.


But why?


Ezra Schwartz, HY”D, and I had a lot in common. I met Ezra once, roughly a week or so before he was murdered. The conversation was normal: we introduced ourselves, asked one-another where we were studying for the year, spoke about mutual friends, and parted ways. There was nothing out of the ordinary about this conversation, a conversation between two students who shared a common love for Israel. He could have been me, but more importantly, I could have been him. I could have been on that trip at that time, sitting in that very same seat that he sat in. But I wasn't.


Over the past few weeks, and especially ever since last Thursday, I have found that it is hard to think clearly. I wake up in the middle of the night anxious, as if something bad is about to happen; I get angry and irritable during random points of the day, sad and introverted during others. I walk around, at times, deep in thought, questioning the very meaning behind everything. "What could drive a person so crazy as to go and shoot at a van full of people?” I ask myself. "Why does any of this have to happen?" I wonder. 


I have no answers, only questions.


Furthermore, ever since Ezra was murdered, the reality of our situation has become all too real. Many Yeshiva and Seminary students are afraid, for we now find that we are no longer exempt from the violence plaguing our country; we, too, are vulnerable to the very real threat of terrorism. Walking the streets, shopping at a mall, praying at Synagogue, and passing out sweets and pizzas to our soldiers are just different forms of the same potential death sentence. 




I have no answers; I refuse to try to search for them, for any attempt at doing so would be futile. However, Ezra's death is not what solely has me on edge as of late. Truth be told, our collective response to the situation has also left me upset; but there is hope.


Within the first few hours after Ezra had been murdered, I checked Facebook and was left feeling rather overwhelmed. "WHERE IS THE OUTCRY!?" was the first post I saw. As I scrolled down, I saw more of the same; friends calling out, asking the world to shed even one tear of sympathy for a Jewish American, gunned down by a Palestinian terrorist. Yet, the more I read, the more depressed I became. See, while I was upset - as were my friends - at the fact that the world remained mostly silent, I got mad because it seemed to me as though this is all we know how to do. It seems that we only know how to cry out, asking CNN, MSNBC, the President and his spokesmen to say something. We sit on our couches and lay in our beds begging the world to suddenly wake up, smell the gunshot residue, and see our struggle. 


That method isn't working.


CNN is still covering the situation in Israel the same way that they covered it a month ago. The New York Times, MSNBC, the State Department; they are all guilty the same. Being what are called "couch-activists" does very little if anything at all to help turn the tide in the fight against media bias. 


However, from the time that came very shortly after Ezra was murdered, I started to notice something that gives me hope; something I believe we, advocates and supporters of Israel, need to do a lot more of.


At a memorial for Ezra held by around 200 gap year students, I was honored to be able to say a few words, expressing my feelings about the current situation in Israel. I shared a personal thought, one which I would like to share again: In Hebrew, there is a word that, alternatively pronounced, carries a whole different meaning. The word is למה. Pronounced to sound like the word "lama", the word means "why?" However, alternatively pronounced to sound like "Leh-Mah," the word means "for what?" The night Ezra died, I decided it was time that I stopped pronouncing the word like the former, and started pronouncing the word like the latter. For while I will most likely never know why Ezra was killed, I believe that I - and we - determine for what he was killed; and I do not believe Ezra was killed for us to sit on our couches, pout, and remain action-less. 


What I saw in the days following Ezra's death was people realizing this; people taking action - for Ezra. I have seen countless articles online, written by people my age, about how we can act regarding Ezra's death. There were efforts to mobilize in order to encourage the Patriots Organization, as well as ESPN, to broadcast a memorial for Ezra at the New England Patriots’ Monday Night Football matchup against the Buffalo Bills. I have seen dozens of pictures of gap-year students walking around the streets of Israel passing out sweets to soldiers. Google Documents have been created in order to learn as much Torah as possible. All this, just in honor of Ezra. This is excluding, as a small example, the dancing that thousands of Jews did outside - and later inside - the wedding of Sarah Litman and Ariel Biegel.


Actions speak far louder than words.


It is time we stop sulking about the clear and present bias against us, and time we do something about it; write letters, make phone calls, and sign petitions. Boost the morale of those around you in any way you can. Take action; for it is through our actions, that we can turn the tide in the fight for sovereignty, security, and understanding. Stop merely asking, “Why” our cries fall upon deaf ears. Stop merely asking “Why,” no one seems to see our struggle.


Do something about it.