Thoughts on Paris

Dear Josep,

Last year, after the three teens were kidnapped, I began to develop what I call “Havdalah Anxiety.” You see, in today’s world, there is something so freeing about turning off my computer and cellphone before lighting candles and bringing in Shabbat. I know that for the next 25 hours, I will not be subject to a constant barrage of information, most of it distressing, and I will not be part of any global conversation. I will simply be focused on the here and now. I will eat good food, enjoy good company, play with my kids, and/or read a good book. This disconnection from the world is such a blessing.

But then the sun begins to set Saturday evening. We sing the sad songs of Se’udah Shleesheet, the third meal of the Sabbath, and the sky darkens around us. When three stars emerge, we perform the havdalah ceremony, described in the post about Shabbat, to officially declare the Sabbath over and begin the new week.

And then we turn on our cellphones.

Under normal circumstances this is no cause for anxiety. But during those two-and-a-half weeks of the search for the three teens, I found it agonizing. What if they were found over Shabbat? Alive? Dead? What if there is no news at all? All the possibilities began to haunt me from the moment the sun began to set until I finally skimmed my Facebook feed and/or the headlines and got past the disappointment that there had been no developments. After they were found, there was the murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, and the riots in Jerusalem, and the escalation in Gaza and eventually the war that took over the summer. And even after the war, there were the terror attacks in Jerusalem, car rammings and stabbings. Turning on my cellphone after Shabbat became inextricably linked with the anxiety about what I might find on the news.

Very unfortunately, that anxiety justified itself once again last night when I turned on my phone. I clicked on my Facebook app, glanced at it for about 5 seconds and blurted, “What the hell happened in Paris?!”

You have to understand; when we plug back in after Shabbat, we have already missed several news cycles, and the headlines are already about the aftermath, the condemnations, the responses. So we have to dig through all that to get to the facts of what happened.

And honestly I don’t really know what to say.

My heart goes out to the people of Paris and I extend my greatest sympathies and prayers. But something about it feels wrong and hypocritical in light of the horrific attacks all over the place (Lebanon, Turkey, Kenya) that somehow the Western world seems to care very little about. Where is all the solidarity for the other victims of Daesh’s death cult–a number growing daily? Not to mention our own situation here in Israel, where we are still facing terror on a daily basis. A father and son were shot dead near Hevron very shortly after the Paris attacks took place, on their way to a celebration preceding their daughter/sister’s wedding. Hardly newsworthy for the international media.

On the other hand, I understand; of course you’re going to care more about an incident that feels closer to you, that effects people who are more like you, in a country that is politically similar to your own. That’s only natural.

When we Israelis encounter these horrific terror attacks in Europe and the USA, we tend to have this erroneous hope that “Maybe now they’ll understand what we’re dealing with.” Erroneous, because that’s never true. The international community’s narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict is so distorted that no matter what happens here, we will always be seen as the aggressors and never as the victims. So we get angry and frustrated and post snarky memes about the perceived hypocrisy. And I hear it.

I hear the pain of my Muslim friends, too. My Muslim friends who get hate mail and people demanding that they prove their commitment to peace and democratic values. These terror attacks increase suspicion against Muslims, feeding into a cycle of fear, hatred, and polarization. And of course there will be a backlash for the refugees fleeing Syria. One of the terrorists in Paris was a “refugee,” lending more legitimacy to the claim that European countries cannot accept the refugees because they might be involved in terror. On the one hand, the vast, vast majority of them are probably genuine refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria and trying to make a peaceful new life somewhere else. And the free world must do what it can to make that possible for them. On the other hand, it is very hard to tell if there are Daesh supporters being smuggled in among them. And the results of these types of infiltration can be deadly. How could we take that risk? But how could we take the moral risk of turning away all these innocent refugees and letting them die, by fire or by water?

So many contradictions. So much pain and fear. I have no answers. Only prayers.

I know Barcelona is not Paris, but for once, I feel a need to ask you to stay safe. May we hear only good news.



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