In the hundreds of encounters I have with people from all over the world, I feel that there is one common denominator that connects me with people who live in distant countries, hundreds of thousands of kilometers from me. The common denominator is this feeling or understanding that is born within you from the very first moment that you become a parent. Your previous instincts and internal motivations are introduced to a new driving force that will accompany you for the rest of your life – the need to make sure that nothing bad will ever, ever happen to your child. That he won’t fall off the swing at the park, that he won’t be insulted or hit by bullies at school, that he won’t get hurt in a car accident, that he won’t get sunburned. If you do have to deal with something bad happening to your child, you feel that you can handle anything else in life, anything but that.
Thankfully, there’s that moment when you can exhale and relax – the moment when your child finally falls asleep in his bed. At last, a bit of peace and quiet. It’s mainly that relief at having the time and opportunity to deal with other things, but subconsciously, it’s also that same deep feeling – that you can let go of the constant worry nested deep in your heart. Your child is sleeping in his bed, between the four walls that compose the safe house that you built for him. Here, nothing will happen to him. Tomorrow, we’ll unquestionably get up to another day of worrying. Those worries are buried down in our subconscious, sometimes rising to the surface. But those worries are always there.
Today, the world has faced the worst nightmare of any parent, whoever and wherever they are. You don’t even need to be a parent to feel the horror. It is impossible to remain indifferent at the sight of murder in a kid’s bedroom – with pink sheets. It is impossible to remain indifferent at the sight of the beautiful face of a thirteen year old girl, who will no longer walk among the living because a hate-filled seventeen year old Arab boy grew up in an environment where death and murder are more sacred than life. Today I face my deepest fear, the thing that leaves me sleepless more than anything else in the world, the only thing that shakes my complete faith in my right to live in the place where I live. It’s the fear that if something happens to my child, I won’t be able to live with myself. The murder of Hallel, who I didn’t know personally, shakes me down to the depths of my soul, leaving me pale faced and deeply upset. I can’t imagine how I am supposed to keep working or how I can go home and do some laundry, or cook for the Sabbath. I haven’t stopped thinking about her mother, and her father – a charming man who I met a few years ago when I visited him with a group of tourists. He spoke so lovingly about his vineyards, and his home. A home that will never again be what it was before.
My Facebook feed is filled with painful messages, photos taken from the worst horror stories, and the adamant statements of politicians, which definitely need to be said, yet don’t offer any element of comfort. A day when a thirteen year old girl is murdered in her bed and stabbed to death is a day that begins bad and will end bad. It hurts to think that the day after, we’ll probably all get up to a new day and be busy with our lives, with Friday, with cooking for the Sabbath. All while at the same time, in a small town called Kiryat Arba, the life of one family will never get back onto its former track. The pain and agony will continue to haunt the neighbors, the classmates and the extended family.
I am reminded of my high school principal, who probably had one of the greatest challenges that educators can face – serving in such a position during years of intifada. It was like living in a cycle of blood. The murder of someone’s brother or mother or neighbor, the funeral, and then that same despised statement of “we must go back to our routines.” We ridiculed that statement, avoided it and hated it. But as I grew up and my commitments increased, I understood it better. Returning to our routines is not a sign of ignoring the difficulty, sorrow, pain and problems that must be solved. We return to our routines because we are a nation who chooses life, even as our enemies insist on choosing death.
Therefore, we can’t just shout cries of sorrow, mourn and be horrified. Choosing life starts now. Preventing the next murder starts now, as does continuing our lives, continuing to build, strengthening our existence in our homeland, despite the attempts to suppress us and break our spirit. Again, the eternal Jewish response is expressed – that the proper Zionist answer is to build. However, at first, this response is a bit difficult to digest. What does construction have to do with murder? To understand the depth of this response, we must stop for a moment. And think. We must understand what it means to choose life. We must understand that we must respond to murder; it is our responsibility. Our responsibility as a country and as a civilized society is to protest the murder of an innocent girl who was murdered in her home by a terrorist. For that terrorist is given complete legitimacy by the members of his village, his environment, his media outlets and the municipal authority that is responsible for him and pays salaries to hundreds just like him. Failure to respond is tantamount to failure to prevent the next murder. Our response as Jews is not the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth type of revenge. The Jewish spirit within us pushes us to arise from the shards and build from the destruction. It tells us to be more severe with murderers, to create more significant means of deterrence and punishment and to combat the legitimacy of those who use murder as a tool for advancing their goals.
Our path is long and winding, and we often fall and get up again, and then fall again and get up again. But if don’t return to our routines so smoothly, so quietly, so passively – and if our government and our society choose less speeches and more action, our ability to deal with everything, even the worst thing of all, and to get back up after we fall will be strengthened. Not because we have no choice. Because we made the choice.