I feel chastened, somewhat, having written about my ambivilent attitude towards Israel just days before murdered eight students in a yeshiva there. That the yeshiva is associated with the religious nationalist faction is useful background information, but to make any sort of political pronouncements regarding that fact, to make any political pronouncements at all, feels too much like making hay with the blood of children, if you’ll pardon the jumbled metaphor. It’s a horrible thing, and certainly Jews–all people possessed of a sense of right and wrong–grieve deeply. The news of these boys’ deaths hit hard, and seemed to spread quickly, and to catch people’s attention. While the deaths of children seem always to have slightly more of that effect, a great deal of the story’s weight was surely that it had happened in Israel, where many Jews tend to take things more immediately to heart. And yet the same day, 68 people died in a double bombing in Iraq. Over a hundred more were injured. Such headlines have ceased to shock me, ceased to horrify and electrify the general populace. It’s the second failure of shock and awe.
As much as tragedies make us feel the puniness of politics in the face of human life, it’s the overexposure to this kind of news, the spiritual ennui it induces, that is the real tragedy. We burnout from too much terrible news. Yet this horror should help form the shape of our politics, if not the specifics, to force us to build fences between what we are willing to accept and what is trayf to us. Waves of violence and destruction are pounding at the world, and we can’t let the sheer enormity of it all numb us. The outrage that the Jewish community is–rightly–feeling and displaying in the face of these deaths (and the subsequent celebration of Hamas members) must enhance and sharpen our outrage at the torrent of deaths in Iraq and in the Congo, the poverty of the Philippines and Haiti, the political repression of Zimbabwe and Burma. Let it fuel the sentiment behind Rav Nachman’s prayer for peace, and when we cry out, “Let peace fill the earth as the waters fill the seas,” let us work together to make it a reality.
Remaining horrified and yet still hopeful is a tall order in a scary world, but weeks like this week make me think that the combination of horror, hope and a renewed commitment to peace may be the only thing to see us through to the other side.