Announcing Days of Awe

Praying for the three abducted Israeli teens

10489719_10152492667044450_7658300711942126798_nYou've probably read by now about the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped while hitchhiking home from their yeshiva in the West Bank. (If not, here's a recent article from TIME: Israel holds breath over three teens kidnapped onWest Bank.)

CNN reports that Israel has detained 150 Palestinians in an effort to find the boys. The Guardian reports that Israel has sealed off most entrances to Hebron (see Israeli forces tighten grip on West Bank in search for three abducted teenagers.)

Netanyahu blames Hamas for the kidnapping; according to the Guardian, Hamas leadership has "furiously denied Netanyahu's allegations." (Meanwhile, in Ha'aretz, Abbas condemns kidnapping.)

The three missing teens are in my thoughts and in my prayers, as are their parents. As a mother, I can only begin to imagine the horror of knowing that one's child has been abducted and is in danger.

I recently retweeted, from the Women of the Wall Facebook page, part of the status update:

We continue to pray for safe and quick return of the kidnapped teens, along with all of Israel and the Jewish world. On our minds all day long as we go about our lives waiting for news.

I think back to my post from a few days ago about what it's like for me to be holding sick loved ones in prayer as I go about my ordinary life, and it seems to me that this is parallel. All of us who hold these teens in our prayers are experiencing this kind of bifurcated reality.

I pray that the boys are safe and will be returned to their families. And I pray for hope and change across that wounded land. My heart breaks for every child, and every parent, who suffers.

What can we, ordinary people worried about the fate of these three boys, do? The traditional answer from Jewish tradition is to pray. We often turn to psalms at times like these -- I've been reading psalm 27 with these teens in mind. And here is A Prayer for Three Missing Israeli Teens by Alden Solovy, courtesy of the URJ. An excerpt:

This dismay is almost too much to bear.
Return Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Elad Yifrach
To the cradle of their parents’ arms,
And the refuge of their homes,
Speedily, in life and in health.
Bless their families with endurance and faith
That they will soon be reunited in the fullness of joy.
Bless our boys, in their captivity,
With hope and courage.
Grant them the strength and fortitude
To face, chas v’shalom, any shames or tyrannies forced upon them.

May it come to pass speedily and soon.

I've read essays in recent days which talk about the interconnections between this tragic story and the occupation. Perhaps the most powerful of these, for me, is Max Fisher's The end of 'both sides'. He writes:

Of the many tragedies of the Israel-Palestine conflict, one of the greatest may be that it does not just disproportionately harm civilians — many conflicts are this way — but that it seeks at every turn to pull regular people across the invisible line from civilian to active combatant.

The kidnapped yeshiva students were treated not as harmless students, nor even quite as settlers — which as unarmed vanguards of the occupation exist in their own gray area between civilians and soldiers — but as analogous to enemy combatants, fair game in the fight. And the Israeli government has responded by arresting dozens of Hamas political leaders, deciding that it would be better to push them into the category of terrorist, of criminals responsible for an act they may have had nothing to do with, than allow them to continue existing in a gray area. It's a conflict that feeds on endless escalation, on upgrading every civilian to a passive combatant — Israeli families are accused of abetting the occupation, Palestinian families of abetting terrorism — and every passive combatant to a front-line fighter. It's a dynamic that serves nothing and nobody but the conflict itself.

+972 magazine has also had some thought-provoking coverage, including one essay which argues that "Providing context may be taboo at a time when the entire country is focused on the fate of three kidnapped Israeli teens, but it is part and parcel of the story." (That's from The kidnapping - Israelis aren't the only ones facing national tragedy.) 

The reason Mairav Zonszein suggests that it's "taboo" to provide context right now is that many people argue that we shouldn't be talking about the occupation at a time like this.

To me, that's like saying that in the wake of a mass shooting it's 'not the time to talk about gun control'-- I understand the impulse, but I don't agree with it. To me, every shooting in America is another reminder of why we need safe and sane laws around firearms. And every tragedy in Israel / Palestine is another reminder of why the status quo is untenable and the occupation needs to end. Of course the kidnapping is indefensible. And it also happened in a context, and that context is the occupation, and I believe that as American Jews we owe it to the Jewish state which we love to educate ourselves about that occupation and to call on our Israeli brothers and sisters to end it.

To end on a note of hope, I'll share one more link: At kidnapping site, Jews and Muslims join in prayer. The subheader is "In heart of West Bank’s Etzion bloc, sheikh, rabbi, activists and others gather to issue joint call for three teens to be returned safely." The sheikh in question, Ibrahim al-Hawa, is someone I was blessed to meet several years ago while in Jerusalem. I am always heartened by news of people who might consider each other enemies choosing instead to come together in peace, to pray together, and to work together for a better world.

May their prayers and ours be answered, speedily and soon.


Image: the mothers of Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Naftali Frenkel. Found via R' Menachem Creditor.