This week, I had reason to be in Israel for 48 hours. It was a difficult time to be there, on the heels of a despicable terrorist attack that left five people dead. Perhaps you heard the news. A terrorist (perhaps 2), snuck into the Jewish community of Itamar, in the West Bank. There they broke into the home of Udi and Ruthie Fogel. The terrorist(s) were there for one objective; to make a political statement through murder.
The brutal terrorists savagely killed 35 year old Udi as he slept in bed after a filling Shabbat dinner. They stabbed and cut the throat of his 4 month old infant daughter, Hadas, lying in the bed next to him. His wife Ruthie was brutally murdered as she exited her bathroom. The disgusting murderer then entered another bedroom and viciously stabbed and slit the throats of Udi and Ruthie’s sons, one 4 years young, the other 11. All of this happened on Friday night. Shabbat. None of them had any defense.
Thankfully, the terrorists missed one door where two other Fogel children, were sleeping. The kids heard the ruckus and hid under their bed. The Fogel’s twelve year old daughter , who had been down the street at a friend’s house, came home to discover her home blood-soaked; her family murdered. Three children survived. They are all not only orphans but are also facing the loss of three of their siblings.
Hamas praised the terrorists as heroes. They said the Fogels’ death was welcome and the beginning of the demise of the Jewish people. A reason to begin celebrating will be when all Jews are killed, some Hamas leaders proclaimed in their mosques. Candy was shared in the streets and baklava and other sweet tastes shared with the masses in the streets of Gaza City, Nablus and Jenin. Children were savagely murdered and others are dancing and eating chocolate to celebrate.
The funeral services for the Fogel family was broadcasted live in Israel. 25,000 people attended the funeral. Cab drivers and waiters all watched and listened. Tears were streaming down the cheeks of the relatives and the passersby. It was a national tragedy but, for more reason than the murder of a family. I felt a pall over the land on this short trip that was not there 10 days earlier. It just goes to show us that the mood of the country can turn in a day, an hour, an attack. When 4 month old babies are brutally murdered in the safety of their parents’ bed while their siblings are slaughtered in the next room, Israelis can only ask, “will there ever be a real partner for peace?”
When a child is born, their very existence and first breath of life is the greatest and most potent symbol of hope that exists. When people literally cut the arteries that supply blood and life to that infant, it figuratively cuts of the very artery of hope. That is the despair that many in Israel felt in the wake of the Fogel murders. In addition to the lives of five people being taken, hope and dialogue was lost too. How could we negotiate with a people that cuts the throats of babies and children for political gain?
In Israel, we can take 20 baby steps forward and 3 giant leaps backwards – bringing us to the same starting point that we found ourselves 10, 30, even 62 years ago. That sense of devolving leaves us feeling hopeless, potentially defeated and alone.
Saturday night, we will read the Megillah. In its story we learn about Esther, a person who transforms from common-folk to palace-person. She is a pedestrian, better-than-average-looking Jewess who knows and appreciates the rhythms of the outside world but, is lucky enough to have been chosen by the king to be his queen. Once in the palace, she gets used to the good life. The familiarity she had with everyday happenings leaves her frontal lobe. She has a glamorous life; jewels and parties and instant gratification. Perhaps this is the reason that when Mordechai was dressed in sack cloth to stir the awareness of the masses of the genocide that Haman wanted to realize, Esther was wholly unaware of the situation. In chapter 4, Esther sends clothes to Mordechai to change into instead of his mourning clothes. She does not know of the gravity of the situation in the world outside the palace.
On the eve of Purim, when we read the story of triumph in the face of despair, we have a moral responsibility to move from our palatial world of comfort and calm and see the sack-cloth-wearing folk amongst us. How many of you knew this story before I shared it? Did you read about it in the paper or see it on TV? Did you call your leadership and demand a response? Did you write your editor and applaud the capture by the Israeli navy of an Iranian vessel headed to Gaza loaded with crude weaponry to cause harm to Israeli citizens? Or were you too comfortable in your proverbial palace to be bothered by the sack cloth apparel of others around you?
Leadership necessitates action. It demands that we get out of our comfort zone and comfortable outfits and see the reality from the ground and the sack-cloth around us. This is what Esther, encouraged by Mordechai, did and it saved the Jewish people against Haman. We cannot afford the price of apathy.
Golda Meir once remarked, “we will have peace with our neighbors when they learn to love their children as much as they hate ours.”
How true her words were for Haman, for 1967 and 1973 and sadly, how true they still are today.
May the memories of the Fogel family always be a blessing. May they forever rest in peace. May Israel offer their surviving children love and hope for a better tomorrow.
Shabbat Shalom. Hag Purim Sameach.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner