Fundamentally Freund: Protecting our yeshivot

What must be done and how to do it.

michael freund 88 (photo credit: )
michael freund 88
(photo credit: )
If you listen carefully, you can still hear the screams. For several interminable minutes last Thursday evening, Jewish children were hunted down and shot like prey in the heart of Jerusalem. After weeks of meticulous planning, one of Israel's ostensible peace partners stormed into the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, pulled out an AK-47 assault rifle, and fired hundreds of rounds at teenage boys as they pored over the most sacred texts of our people. Again and again, the cold-blooded monster pulled the trigger, pumping bullets into their adolescent frames in a frenzy of unspeakable carnage and slaughter. One can only imagine the sheer terror that gripped those students, as they sought to hide from the Angel of Death who was stalking in their midst. When it was over, eight precious lives, each one of them full of hope and promise, had been mercilessly cut down in the prime of their youth as they sat in a house of God, preparing for the start of the joyous new Hebrew month of Adar Sheni. Torah scrolls were left riddled with bullets, Talmudic folios and prayer shawls were drenched in blood, and an entire nation was shocked to the very core of its being. It defies comprehension. How could anyone target a religious school, a place of prayer? How could he shoot at kids, some of whom were only in tenth grade? I simply can not believe it. SEVENTEEN years ago, just out of college, I attended a yeshiva a block away from Mercaz HaRav. I passed by it nearly every day, some times going in for afternoon or evening prayers, as well as on festivals and holidays. I still remember walking in to the main study hall at Mercaz on one occasion to find a large circle of students, teachers and rabbis methodically dancing around the room. Their voices rose in a collective crescendo as they recited the text of an ancient Aramaic prayer taken from the weekly Sabbath service. "May it be Your will that You open my heart to the Torah," they sang, "and that You fulfill the wishes of my heart and the heart of Your entire people Israel, for good, for life, and for peace." That haunting tune, so swathed in my memory in purity and faith, is now enveloped in sadness and turmoil too. This horror should never have come to pass. If Israel had a government that acted forcefully on behalf of the safety and security of its citizens, massacres such as these might very well be prevented. BUT AS we bury the dead and pray for the wounded, I think it is essential that we direct our energies in a different direction. Our obligation toward those who died in sanctification of God's Name last week is to formulate a meaningful Jewish response, one that in some small way ensures that something positive and constructive emerges from this dreadful event. Here is one modest suggestion: let's start by protecting our children. According to media reports, a security guard was posted at night at the entrance to Mercaz Harav up until recently, when it was decided that such a step was no longer necessary and the guard was removed. Now there is no way of knowing whether the presence of a night watchman would have prevented this attack from occurring, but it certainly might have. So let's learn at least one collective lesson from this, and demand that every yeshiva and every educational institution - without exception - be manned by a security presence during operating hours. It is not enough to require kindergartens or elementary schools in this regard, as the attack at Mercaz Harav clearly demonstrated. Our enemies are probing for weak points in our defense, looking for easy targets that will provide maximum shock value. Indeed, just six weeks ago, two Palestinians sought to carry out an attack at the Mekor Haim yeshiva in Gush Etzion before they were shot and killed by a staff member. SO LET'S wake up and realize that our yeshivot have also become targets, and take the steps necessary to protect them. There is simply no reason to leave our kids, whatever their age, exposed to the designs of a madman. And where will the manpower come from, you might be asking? Well, here's another idea. Just last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak refused to exempt some 1,000 yeshiva students from army service, once again raising the sensitive issue of draft deferrals for haredi students, many of whom do not wish to be thrust into the environment of the army. So why not train these young men to serve as a special cadre of sentinels at the thousands of yeshivot and seminaries throughout the country? The government could set up a special unit, call it "Shomrei Torah" ("Guardians of the Torah"), and thereby enable them to serve in a milieu closer to home. This would allow these young men to maintain their unique lifestyle and connection to the yeshiva world, while giving them an opportunity to contribute to the defense of the country and its institutions. And it would help to diffuse the discord and antagonism in Israeli society which the question of draft-deferrals perennially raises. More importantly, though, it would also ensure that the only shouts coming out of our schools would be those of joy and delight. And that is how it should be.