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A Letter to the Western World (Or: Turning Terror into Good Deeds)

Dear Western World. Hi there! I just want to soothe your conscience, and let you know that I feel for you. I know you have a lot on your plate now! In Europe, there’s the UEFA 2016 qualifiers, the refugee situation, and the VW mess-up. In the USA, it’s MLB playoff season, there’s a presidential election coming up, and what’s with sports cyber-betting? With all that happening, who has time to really sit down and listen to Middle East news these days? Because we in Israel understand what you’re going through, I want to officially state on behalf of everybody here: YOU ARE OFF THE HOOK. If you haven’t figured out by now how to differentiate between good and evil, I just don’t think it’s ever going to happen. I know that you don’t use that “good n’ evil” measuring stick. It’s not PC. I realize that in the Great Western Tradition, it’s all relative: if two groups are fighting, they are both wrong. No side is all good and no side is all evil (this part is indeed true). According to experts in conflict resolution studies (they are often experts in conflict resolution studies, not necessarily in conflict resolution itself), no side should be favored. All are equally guilty. Add to that a heaping tablespoon of naivete, stir with a sprinkle of Love for the Underdog, add a dash of ignorance due to faulty news sources (and please don’t forget a topping of Messianic belief that if only Israel would dismantle “the settlements”, there would be quiet), and you have yourself an Israeli-Palestinian Banana Split. Right down the middle. So for now, we will try our best on our own. Even if it will cost us. And do you know why? Because when you get abused by someone, and then get blamed for it, you lower your expectations from the world. All we have is our country, the diverse peoples who would like to share this region with us, our few friends, and….more than anything else…we have our own moral compass. This compass is not set by the UN, the State Department, or the New York Times. It is set by us as a People, as it has been for thousands of years.   Now that we have that out of the way, I’m sure you’re curious on how we deal with getting attacked all the time. So between commercials, I’ll tell you. We perform random acts of kindness. More than ever before. These past two weeks, Israelis have been nicer, more considerate, have looked out more for others, and have had other people’s backs. People have been going out of their way to do good deeds for others. Take Golan, for example. He’s a famous actor and singer, and he decided that he could help the situation by taking his guitar to downtown Jerusalem and play. The streets were empty, but he started playing anyway. Soon, there was a huge crowd around him, dancing and singing. He said: “This is all I can do right now. I know how to sing, so that’s my small part in countering what is going on.” Avi, runs a restaurant in Jerusalem, where everything is cooked in small amounts; nothing industrial here. He made a video and sent it out: “All soldiers, policemen and security guards – please come to my restaurant whenever you want, and I will feed you for free, and I will make you feel at home. You deserve it. Thank you for protecting me.” When asked why he is doing this, he said: “What else can I do? This is all I can do!” Residents of the Bedouin village of Bet Zarzir in the north – all Muslims – joined Jews in a demonstration against violence. Almost all males in the village serve in the IDF. All were waving flags. Israeli flags. David – a Livnot past-chevre – took his daughter to a funeral of a terror victim in Jerusalem, because the victim lived all alone and had almost no family. There were hundreds of people there, from all walks of life, who were total strangers. Dr. Ahmed Eid is an Israeli-Arab Muslim, who saved the life of the 13-year-old Jewish boy who was stabbed in Pisgat Zeev by two Palestinian teens nearly a dozen times, and arrived at the hospital with barely a pulse after losing large quantities of blood on Monday. He is head of surgery at Hadassah’s Mount Scopus hospital. He said: “I feel part of this state…I am Israeli…my loyalty to the state is in no doubt…but some people are indoctrinated, and it’s an abuse of religion.” Dudu is an Egged bus driver on the route from Jerusalem to Bet Shean via the Jordan Valley. On a particularly violent night, he drove off of his route (which is strictly forbidden) to take people directly to their villages, instead of leaving them at the bus stop on the side of the road, because they didn’t want to wait outside. He said: “This is what I can do to help.” Evyatar serves in the IDF at a desert outpost. “Today I saw a Bedouin girl about 10 years-old looking for some food in a trash can near our base. She wore rags and a smile, was barefoot and had unkempt hair, but at the same time was very cute. I asked her in Arabic for her name, which was Ranin. Then I asked her to wait a minute (“Stanna Shwayeh!”), and I went as fast as I could to my room, and took a box of my favorite cereal and gave it to her. The smile that she had on her face made my day, and even with the language block we understood each other. In these times, this little girl reminded me that behind every religion, race or gender there are people, and human beings that just want to be happy and live peacefully, and we shall not forget that being a human comes before every conflict.” Yossi was driving home one night, but on his way he saw a man attacking a woman. He could have let the security forces deal with it, but he stopped his car and ran to help the woman by getting the terrorist to come towards him instead. He was stabbed a few times, and later was taken to the hospital with relatively light wounds. He said: “I learned karate when I was a kid, decades ago, and it just kicked in. I was taught that when you see someone in trouble, you stop everything you’re doing and help.” Moshe is a traffic policeman and one morning saw a woman driving alone in the lane that is reserved for public transportation. He went to stop her car, because he thought something fishy was going on. As he came closer to the car, the woman blew herself up, and Moshe was miraculously only lightly wounded. “I was actually driving in the opposite direction, but I’m a policeman, and my job is to protect people. It’s what I do.” Matan was on his way to his own prenuptial party in Jerusalem, and he had to stop by the cleaners and pick up his suit. On the way, he saw little kids running hysterically on the sidewalk. He got out of his car with a small can of tear gas and a stick. “I saw wounded people lying in blood, and then I saw the terrorist. I ran over and sprayed him with the tear gas. Then I hit him with the stick. Why did I do it? I’ll tell you. When I saw little kids running, all I wanted to do was protect them. So I figured that if the terrorist is running after them, I’ll stand in his way, and better me get hurt than the little kids get hurt.” Sammy was riding a public bus in Jerusalem when two terrorists got on at a bus stop. One started shooting and stabbing, while the other tried to lock the doors and hijack the bus. A security man went to stop the hijacker, and the young man who was in the back of the bus ran over to the back door and tried to open it just as the terrorist was trying to lock it. He used all his strength fighting the door until he succeeded in opening it, and helped all the folks in the back of the bus escape the attempted mass murder. A young woman who was nursing her baby heard that a couple was murdered, and that one of their children – who was still nursing – needed some mother’s milk. She got in touch with other nursing women and organized a milk drive. After two days, they had to make a public announcement to stop sending milk; they had much more than they needed. One woman who was murdered with her husband was a graphic artist and had her own studio, with one assistant. After her death, her friends got together and raised enough money to pay off all the debts that were owed to suppliers and contractors. They made sure that was enough money to pay the assistant to keep the office open. The money earned will go to pay staff and suppliers; and part of it will go into a trust fund that will be for the orphaned children. These are just a few of the hundreds of stories of random acts of kindness that Israelis have done since the attacks started a few weeks ago.   If I was hired by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to be an advisor, I would sit down with them and explain: “Violence and murder and death and blood…it is not in your best interest. It makes the enemy stronger, and causes them to come together in a very dangerous form of unity. Do not let the people of Israel be unified, because then they will be unstoppable. Throwing lethal rocks and firebombs, throwing pipe bombs and shooting – it will come back to you like a boomerang. And worst of all, it makes the enemy do random acts of kindness! You must stop, you are ruining your future, this is a huge strategic mistake. You are only hurting yourselves!” I have yet to get a phone call from them… But I was reminded of this idea during the recent Sukkot holiday. Thousands of years ago, the Sages were discussing Sukkot and the offerings in the Temple that were made, and they emphasized how in a spiritual way, these offerings (some were animal, some were vegetable, some were mineral) helped people get a “spiritual clean slate” for all the mistakes they had made. The offerings were made to help both Jews and non-Jews alike; we all make mistakes and need spiritual rejuvenation. The sage Rabbi Yochanan was quoted in reference to the Romans, who destroyed the Temple: “Woe to them, for they caused a loss, and yet they do not know what they have lost. When the Temple was in existence, the altar atoned for them; but now that it is no longer in existence, who shall atone for them?” Evil acts have a way of mainly hurting the perpetrator, even more than they hurt the victim. It might not happen soon, but it will happen one day: our neighbors, along with the rest of The World, will wake up from their stupor and realize how easy it is to make peace. It’s not rocket science. It just means you have to stop hating. (What part of “stop hating” did you not understand?) Until then, we’ll let the IDF and the police deal with security; they are professional, they are fair, and they are even nice…unless you are a terrorist. (Actually, there’s no way for you to understand that last sentence, since you’ve never met IDF soldiers, so forget that last sentence.)   There was a great cartoon in the New Yorker just a few months after 9/11. Two men are sitting in a bar, and one says to the other: “I figure if I don’t have that third Martini, then the terrorists win.” Although this might sound strange to you, World, I believe we should not focus right now on the terrorists, or on “winning,” or on the unfairness of the world media, or on the double-standards of the UN. We should focus – for now – on doing random acts of kindness. Of course, it makes most sense to help those people who are being directly hurt by these senseless attacks. But regardless, you should know that one of our oldest Jewish traditions is to fight darkness with light, fight hate with love, fight pain with pleasure, fight crying with laughter, fight death with life. Now don’t take this personally, World, but during these past few weeks as we waited to see how you’d react, we Israelis could see who is trustworthy and who isn’t. If I get knifed and you come to visit me in the hospital, please don’t lecture me on how I deserved it. I might forgive you one day for doing that, but not until my stitches come out. Lastly, World, I’d like to tell you what we do Saturday night after Shabbat. We taste wine, we smell scents, and we light up the darkness with a candle. And then we say: “Blessed is the One who differentiates between Special and Regular.” It’s what humans do…we differentiate! We pick places to live in, jobs to work at, and lovers to spend lives with. We choose teams to root for and foods that we prefer eating. And…The Most Important Differentiation of them all…we spend our lives differentiating between Good and Evil. When you understand this…when you “get” this…let me know, and we’ll have that third Martini. L’Chaim! Michael Even-Esh

Shayna
Shayna Rehberg
shayna@livnot.org

Shayna Rehberg straddles the Gen X/Millennial divide in Tzfat with her four unique and creative children as an ‘unlabeled’ Jew. In all her spare time she also enjoys music, photography, blogging, collecting knives and teacups, swapping stories, and shopping in the shuk.