By Rivy Poupko Kletenik, Jewish Sound Columnist
I know there seems to be no shortage of awful things that happen to us Jews, and maybe on some level we should get used to it. As I read about anti-Jewish activities in France for example, I confess — I sometimes just glaze over. I mean, how many times can we let ourselves get worked up over these things? What with being Jewish — bad things seem to be inevitable.
That said, the shooting in the Brussels Jewish Museum this past May gave me great pause. But the recent kidnapping of the three young men in Israel really has me disturbed and engrossed in their fate. I feel it’s offensive to get political about it — it does not matter from where they were kidnapped. Three Jewish kids are kidnapped? This is just awful. They were not soldiers, just kids on their way home. What can we do about this?
Two demeanors that I disdain? Being cynical and being jaded. So good for you that you care. We must care. It is tempting to change the channel and not let ourselves get disturbed and easy to rationalize that one person can’t really make a difference. Many here in the Pacific Northwest fall prey to assuming there is little that we can accomplish, and that we should allow the government of Israel to handle the situation or allow some of the larger Jewish communities take action. I disagree. For every reason you mentioned, we must not sit idly by the blood of our brothers.
Moreover, we are compelled, according Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in his essay “Kol Dodi Dofek,” as detailed by Dr. Moshe Sokolow, by a covenant of “arevut” — mutual responsibility that we collectively entered into as we arrived the land of Israel. We have a shared responsibility and liability, he writes, “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh — all Jews are guarantors for one another.” This is not merely a lofty philosophical aspiration. It functions, in halachah, as a principle of law.
We do not have the luxury to turn a blind eye to the fate of our fellow Jews. Indeed, we should be proud that it is our mandate to be involved and intricately connected to each other. In that very article by Sokolow, he cites this oft-told joke to display the very idea.
A Jewish immigrant arrives as a newcomer to New York’s Lower East Side and frantically seeks the company of other Jews. Not knowing whom, or where they might be, he goes out into the street and shouts, in Yiddish: “Men schlogt de Yidden!” — they are beating Jews! People quickly surround him and demand to know what was going on and how they could help. The man replies: “In my shtetl, back in the alter heim they are beating Jews — I only wanted to know whether anybody here cared.”
Self-deprecating device and wolf-crying ploy aside, the joke communicates the core notion that we are a people that cares about each other. This is who we are. In every generation it looks a little bit different and in some cases we do better than other cases. For now, in this generation, at this moment, it looks like this: #bringbackourboys.
Here are six action items all grounded on Jewish values — let’s get busy.
1. Write letters to the family. Let them know you care, that their sons are on all of our minds, and that we too are desperate for their return. When going through a crisis or a time of immense stress and hardship knowing that others are present with us and are sharing in our burden is meaningful and serves to alleviate of some of the pain. Our tradition teaches us that one-sixth of the pain of an ailing patient is relieved by one compassionate visitor just think what a flood of letters could do. You can even write online by going here: www.onefamilytogether.org/letters-of-support/
2. Stay informed. One of the endearing attributes of most Israelis is their predilection for compulsively listening to the hourly news. Can you hear the “beep beep beep Kol Yisrael…” yet? Tragically the habit is borne from the reality of the highly charged situation, fondly known as the “matzav.” In times such as these we must adopt this stance. It is our duty to check in with Israeli news sites on a daily basis to keep apprised of the situation’s latest developments. This way, our sensitivities are never diverted from the plight of these boys and their families lest our hearts become hardened.
3. Engage Jewishly: Rabbi Adin Stenhalz, in whose yeshiva one of the boys is a student, implores us to take action: “What we can do — and this has been the Jewish way from time immemorial — is to add more holiness and learn more Torah. If we can, each of us should take upon ourselves something additional, no matter how small, especially and explicitly devoted for the sake and well-being of the missing boys: Naftali Frankel (Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah), Gilad Shaar (Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim), Eyal Yifrach (Eyal ben Iris Tesura.)”
What could this increase in holiness look like? Light an additional Shabbat candle for the students. Be conscious of your daily activities — how you speak, eat and spend your time. Each of us is blessed with freedom and self-actualization — those held hostage are not. How do we use our blessings, our time and our wherewithal? How can we be sure to not squander them?
4. Fight evil: Evil pops up in all of our daily lives. It may sound extreme, but it is there. How often do we back down in family, work or community affairs when we feel it would be to no avail to stand up to the intimidator, the narcissist, or the social blackmailer? Many of us relent quickly when intimidated by the power-hungry. We need to practice standing up for what we believe in. Just as it is not okay for one human being to kidnap another, it is also not okay to hijack an organization, institution or community through strong arming, threatening and extortion.
5. Take political action. Call your governmental representatives, sign the White House petition, write letters, and if someone organizes a rally — go!
6. Finally, let’s together lift our eyes and hearts and offer heartfelt daily prayers for their safe return. Remember, we are collectively believers, the children of believers, and it is our deep belief that prayers have the power to effect change. Join me — time to do some knocking on Heaven’s door.
Rivy Poupko Kletenik is an internationally renowned educator and Head of School at the Seattle Hebrew Academy. If you have a question that’s been tickling your brain, send Rivy an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.