Unity in Tragedy


runyan_josh_otThis column was supposed to begin on a positive note, seeing in the recent fundraising prowess of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore a message that Jewish unity is alive and strong and can be marshaled to face the challenges of poverty and generational apathy.

That all remains true, but Monday afternoon, the world learned the fate of “our boys”: Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, had been murdered, their bodies found in shallow graves in an open field just north of Hebron. Investigators indicated that they were likely slain soon after their June 12 disappearance, meaning that not only had the international campaign to bring them home come to naught, it was in all probability futile from the very start.

Responses to the tragedy, whether here in Baltimore, in Israel or elsewhere in the world, are predictably raw. These teenagers were not soldiers, they were innocent children. That their blood was spilled has only highlighted the barbarity of the perpetrators and put in focus the culture of Palestinian hatred that celebrated the crimes.

As Owings Mills JCC receptionist Tzippie Mahr told the JT, when she found out, we are all “shattered and frightened.”

But as the boys’ parents, joined by the worldwide Jewish community, mourn, the issue will invariably turn to where to go from here. The boys’ disappearance three weeks ago unlocked a groundswell of fraternal identification: They were not somebody else’s children, they were ours. It was not some distant nation’s problem, but a pain that pierced the soul of many a Jew.

The pain will of course remain, but let’s not forget the unity that revealed itself in tragedy. Let’s always remember that what happens on one side of the Jewish world affects those on the other side, that the pain — and happiness — of one is the pain and happiness of us all. At the end of the day, ours is a global community like none other; since time immemorial, the Jewish people’s strength has come to the fore when we’ve been able to look past our individual differences in responding to external threats.

In the desert, the challenge was how to channel divinity in a physical world, and it was only through the communal efforts of individuals — rich and poor, strong and weak, each contributing just a half shekel — that the Tabernacle could be constructed. Today, the challenge is how to make a community of Jews into a Jewish community, making sure that each person matters and is fulfilled, both materially and spiritually. The Associated’s annual campaign, which tellingly did not decrease despite the halting pace of the greater economic recovery, is a step in the right direction. Over the past year, the number of donors who collectively contributed $30 million in unrestricted funds increased by more than 10 percent to 10,000. Over the coming year, more people should “buy in” and do so as well at their synagogues and day schools.

The task is not easy, but building community is ultimately a communal endeavor.


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