Faith

Our Children, Unsafe in Israel

A father asks why Jewish teens go to the violent Holy Land

A boy from my synagogue was killed last week. He was in a car returning from Gush Etzion, a settlers’ community on Israel’s West Bank after having brought food to soldiers. He was 18.

His killer was a Palestinian motorist who fired from his car into the car containing the young American Jew and his friends.

The killer then rammed his own vehicle into a group of pedestrians.

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The headlines speak of hatred and violence that caused his death. No one’s asking a different question: Why was the young man in Gush Etzion in the first place?

Can we find ways to support Israel that do not put our children in harm’s way?

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The State of Israel has become, for young American Jews, a spiritual finishing school, an Outward Bound, even a place to cheat death, at least most of the time. They go to Israel for a few weeks or for a school year. Dozens of programs and institutions exist to serve American and other English-speaking Jews from around the world.

They study Torah, they volunteer, they work on kibbutzim or collective farms, and they exult in the Jewishness of the State of Israel.

All commendable activities, to be sure.

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I did the same thing when I was a little older than this boy. I did some eyebrow-raising things that year, out of my own naivete– riding the Arab bus from Hebron to Jerusalem; going for solo evening runs in an Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood.

And I loved it.

It all sounds great, except for one thing.

Doesn’t anyone read the paper? There’s a war going on right now. The summer marked a huge uptick in violence.

Palestinians, with or without the encouragement of their leaders, have been stabbing and shooting Jews up and down the State of Israel. The attacks come out of nowhere, and defending against the sudden thrust of a knife or a gunshot is nearly impossible.

Why are we sending our kids into a war zone? How many deaths are acceptable before we decide that maybe Israel isn’t the right place for our teenagers?

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The whole thing is fun and exciting, until suddenly it isn’t, as was the case for this young man, his family, his high school community, and his hometown.

There really isn’t a lot of sympathy for the position I’m espousing, because Jews around the world must support Israel at all times and in all ways, especially in moments of distress such as the current season of violence.

But say it I must: Can we find ways to support Israel that do not put our children in harm’s way? Does a parent have a right to say to an 18-year-old who wants to go to Israel, “Not now”? Do Jews not living in Israel have a right to say that they can send a check but not their boys and girls?

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Jewish and Israeli guilt kicks in immediately. Our sons and daughters have to fight in the army, the Israelis say, incredulous. You mean your kid can’t come and bring some food to a military base?

Thousands of young American Jews are in Israel now, doing things you can only respect — learning Torah, volunteering, bringing food to soldiers.

And they’re all at risk.

And thousands more are making plans to go there next year, and the year after that.

Rest in peace, Ezra Schwartz.

Why did you have to die at 18, with your promise unfulfilled?

Who’s next?

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