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Dealing with Awful Realities
Personal reflections on the latest tragedy
When I answered the phone to my daughter’s call on Friday, she was crying so hysterically that my blood ran cold.
“Aba, my friend was murdered!”
Just typing out that sentence is so, so hard. And there is no way to convey the anguish and horror that was in my daughter’s voice as she uttered those words.
20-year-old Maia Dee and her 16-year old sister Rina were brutally gunned down and killed on Friday, and their mother Lucy (Leah) is currently in critical condition. Her father and siblings were in another car travelling ahead, and came back to find the unspeakable scene. Just thinking about the scope of the tragedy is overwhelming. Two lives so full of goodness and promise that are lost. A family that is ripped apart.
Maia was in Midrasha last year with my daughter, and they had been in touch the previous day. I saw pictures of them together, along with the most beautiful letter that Maia had written to her when they left Midrasha. What could I say to console my daughter, to help her process this tragedy? Some of my children are particularly anxious about the dangers of life in Israel.
The bleak reality is that this appalling tragedy will not be the last such horror. It doesn’t make much difference whether the prime minister is Bibi Netanyahu or Benny Gantz or Yair Lapid or even Ben Gvir. There are several million Palestinians in Judea and Samara, and a huge proportion of them reject the Jewish People’s ancestral connection to the Land of Israel and our right to a sovereign state here. And there is simply no way to prevent every terror attack. Nor would creating a Palestinian state help, for two reasons - first, that state would likely end up as a failed terror state just as Gaza did, and second, even among Israeli Arabs, 75% believe that the Jews have no right to sovereignty.
Armchair generals who react by saying “well then we have to get rid of the Arabs” are letting their emotions get ahead of their thinking. First of all, many of these Arabs are descendants of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who lived here in the 19th century, when there were only a few thousand Jews here, and it’s deeply problematic to say that they should all be turned into refugees (and nowadays, it’s also an international war crime). Second - and addressing those who don’t understand or don’t agree with the previous point - the fact is that any such operation would result in absolutely catastrophic loss of life on both sides.
So, Israel is stuck with this horrible situation of a perpetual low-intensity conflict. As a parent, with a powerful instinct to protect my children from both direct harm and the harm of suffering the loss of friends, the idea crossed my mind that perhaps I should take them to live somewhere else, where they will be protected from such things. The fact is that for any individual Jew, Israel is certainly not the safest place to be vis-a-vis terrorism - while terror attacks can happen anywhere, they are much more likely to happen in Israel.
But there’s more to life than avoiding terrorist attacks. First of all, even if one considers life expectancy to be the single most important consideration, the fact is that terror attacks are still, statistically speaking, less significant than traffic accidents - and I’ve never heard of anyone deciding where to live based on that. And in a previous post, I pointed out that life expectancy in Israel is actually greater than in most other countries.
Second is that there are things that are more important than avoiding the relatively low risk of terror attacks, even from the perspective of a parent. A person’s quality of life is created from many ingredients, and minimizing danger is just one of them. There are many reasons why I believe that raising my children in Israel is providing them with a tremendous quality of life and personal growth that would be difficult to attain elsewhere.
Third is that it’s not only about what’s best for my own children. We are part of a nation. For the Jewish People as a whole, Israel is not only tremendously beneficial, but also essential. And that requires all of us to share the risks and responsibilities. That is why next year I will be sending my son to hesder yeshivah which will probably involve combat duty, even though it fills me with dread. Realizing the tremendous personal growth that he will undergo has helped me come to terms with it, but even before that I accepted it as a necessary part of being part of this country. The gift of living in the Jewish homeland comes with responsibilities.
Being a Jew can be a difficult burden, but it is also a tremendous blessing. And we are fortunate to live at a time when we can benefit from the extraordinary historical miracle of returning to our homeland and having a sovereign state. There have been incredibly painful sacrifices, and there will yet be more. But it’s all part of our destiny, and it’s a privilege to be a part of it.
May Leah bat Tzippora have a refuah shelemah, and may Hashem help the Dee family through this. And may we all have the strength to shoulder our destiny as Jews.
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