Grumpy old man: What now?

It’s a two-pronged question that gets asked far too often.

Mourners gather at the grave of Gil-Ad Shaer on Tuesday. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Mourners gather at the grave of Gil-Ad Shaer on Tuesday.
There’s a certain question that gets lots of play around here.
It’s asked when we hear or sense that something terrible has taken place – when the TV stations interrupt their programming for a news bulletin, when we see someone who is usually smiling and optimistic suddenly wearing a sad or worried expression, when we note that the radio has switched over to somber music, when the phone rings in the middle of the night.
It’s asked because bad things seem to happen often.
The question: “What now?” There’s more than a touch of cynicism to the question. It signals a seen-it-all, been there/done that attitude, a sense of weariness and even resignation. Mixed in with all the good, so many bad things seem to happen here: dreadful wars, horrendous traffic accidents, deadly terror attacks, horrific instances of domestic violence.
And now, the abduction and murder of three teens in the West Bank.
After all the what-nows, a lot of words are spent in an effort to understand why these things happen. The talking heads bob endlessly. The Left says it’s the occupation.
The Right says it’s because we don’t go in and finish things once and for all. The cabinet ministers say it’s because there’s no money. The electorate says it’s because our politicians lack backbone or care only for their careers. And certain rabbis say it’s because we don’t keep Shabbat or because our mezuzot are impure or because the government-sanctioned conversion process is not strict enough.
But then, when we’re unsure about what to do next, the same question is thrown out.
What now? What are we going to do about it? What are we going to do in spite of it? It reminds me of how it is said, perhaps mistakenly, that in Chinese the word “crisis” is written with two symbols – one signifying danger, one signifying opportunity.
When we ask “What now?” it’s pretty much the same. What has happened? And then, what are we going to do? I WRITE these words the morning after searchers found the bodies of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrah and Gil-Ad Shaer 18 days after their disappearance while hitching a nighttime ride in the West Bank.
There’s no question that at this moment, no matter what our political views, no matter what we think about our presence in the territories or even about hitchhiking, our hearts are bound up with those of the grieving parents, siblings, relatives and friends. Despite the sense of closure after so many days of gnawing uncertainty, no one who is decent and moral can possibly feel something different.
You don’t have to be a parent to understand this. It reminds me of a sign in a storefront photographed the day after the assassination of US president John F. Kennedy: Closed due to a death in the family.
Yet this doesn’t prohibit us from thinking forward, from asking what now? What should we do to ensure that this never happens again? What can we do? Obviously, there are a lot of things we can do. The question of what we should do, however, is a lot tougher.
There are things that decent and moral people don’t do, but there’s a lot up in the air that is not governed by morals or decency, rather by priorities – priorities that are guided by ideology, wisdom or just the willingness to pay a certain price. And it is on that which we are divided, have long been divided and probably will remain divided.
This is partly because the feelings and emotions washing over us right now are not new. We’ve been here before. At the first hint of catastrophe we’ve asked what now? And in the aftermath of these tragedies we’ve asked our leaders the same question: What are you going to do? Yet little has changed. There’s a numbing inertia, a weight that makes it difficult if not impossible to move. Imagine the crushing gravity on Jupiter. It’s that substantial.
BY THE time these words see light of day, our government may already have embarked on its reply to the kidnapping and deaths of Yifrah, Shaer and Fraenkel. And I say good! If you have the proper information and intelligence data, go after them! Try not to hurt or punish anyone else in the process, but get the guilty parties! Stop them in their tracks! Obliterate them or bring them to trial and then jail them and throw away the key! (And the same goes for Jewish terrorists.) But when we ask the question “What now?” we’re also talking about the day after and all the days after that. So for heaven’s sake, think good and hard about your next moves. I’ve grown weary of asking the question.