Tuesday, July 1, 2014

No Words (but I'll write some anyway)

Tis was not how I intended to get back into blogging.  I have been saving up a semester's worth of posts and ideas.  I am currently at ISTE, the major education technology conference of the year and have several thoughts to share as a result.

But all of that will have to wait.  There is only one topic to discuss today.  After two and a half weeks of praying and hoping, we received the horrible news yesterday that three of our brothers had been found murdered.  The past twenty-four hours have been a tear-fest, as we have been reading and watching, listening to the painful yet noble eulogies by the parents of the slain teenagers, awed by the midnight vigils that broke out in public squares across Israel, and left to cope with a cocktail of sadness infused with anger laced with helplessness.

Many have already published their thoughts, and I am not sure how much more I have to add.  Trying as always to remain faithful to this blog's mission of being focused on education, a few thoughts from an educator's perspective.

Many have already noted the amazing and seemingly unprecedented sense of unity among world Jewry that has been pervasive over the past few weeks.  All of our fights over theological matters large and small have been largely put aside as Jews of all stripes have prayed for Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali.  Many have also commented how it is a shame that it takes moments of tragedy to unite us, and while that is true, it is also not unique to the Jewish people.  To be honest, I don't expect an era of peace among all Jews to be ushered in,  and I expect that we will continue to have our differences and to fight about them.  But perhaps, just perhaps, we can peel away some of the hatred that has built up alongside those differences.  One of the deleterious effects of the world of social media is the quick escalation of arguments from mild disagreements to fights to the death, with name-calling, polarization of views, and delegitimization of others (and not only their opinions) being sadly de rigeur. For the past three weeks, we were able to speak to one another as fellow Jews.  May we continue to see each other that way three weeks from now.

The world of social media has also highlighted another important point, and that is that those of us living outside of Israel are very much in galut, in exile.  And, truth be told, there are two sides to this story.  In some ways, it has never been easier for us to stay connected to what is going on in Israel.  Every potential new piece of evidence, every update from the police, every call for prayer has been instantly broadcast to us via Facebook and Twitter and a hundred different news sites.  We were able to easily mobilize to contact our elected officials demanding that they put pressure on Hamas.  And, in the end, we found out about the discovery of the boys' bodies in the moment, as our streams and news feeds began trickling and then flooding with the news.

But at the same time, there was a surreal sense to it all.  I found out the news while sitting on the floor in a conference center, surrounded by 20,000 other people of whom only about 150 were even following the story.  As I bumped into the other Jewish educators who are here with me, we exchanged knowing looks and solemn reflections, but the world moved on around us as normal.  By contrast, the State of Israel came to a near halt, ushering in a national day of mourning that even from afar we can sense was tangible and palpable.  Hundreds of thousands attended the funerals today and likely everyone else was watching on TV.  That sense of national grief cannot be replicated in Teaneck or Riverdale or Chicago.  The collective Jewish body is in deep pain today, but the pain is so much more acute near the heart of the nation.

This is not a call for everyone to pick up and make Aliyah tomorrow.  Life is much more complex that than and each of us has our own calculations. But, at a minimum, each of us who still lives outside of Israel should be reminded that we are missing something.  For those of us in America, even the biggest pessimist has to admit that we are welcomed and accepted like never before in Jewish history and yet we should be concerned that that acceptance could cause us to lose our focus as to where we can best live as Jews.  Israel has to be more than another Disneyland or another smorgasbord for us; we have to recognize and teach our students that it is the only place that we can live fully Jewish lives.  I was planning on discussing this message from a more optimistic standpoint, as the upcoming shemita year would present a reminder that there are mitzvot that can only be fulfilled and experienced in Israel.  The tragic murders of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali reminds us that our connection to and identification with our Jewish brothers can also only attain its fullest potential when we are together in our land.

May the memory of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali inspire us in the future in the same ways that their disappearance inspired us in the recent past.  יהי זכרם ברוך.