No Israeli Death Is in Vain
“Joyful thoughts! …Joyful words!!…Joyful feelings!…Joyful actions!”
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin led us in this exuberant chant during a recent morning class in Jerusalem. That same morning, Rabbi Reuben Birmajer was in a nearby room teaching his last Torah lessons. My wife and I arrived at the Jaffa gate 30 minutes after Rabbi Birmajer and Ofer Ben-Ari were brutally murdered.
One of Ben-Ari’s daughters described her father as a “man of gold who never harmed anyone.” She lamented that “he was murdered for nothing.” But we must not let the tragic deaths of these two heroes be viewed as having occurred for “nothing.” As mortals we can never know the meaning of God’s thoughts, but we can try to discover some positive meaning in all that occurs.
All of Israel feels a personal loss for every victim. I didn’t know Rabbi Reuben Birmajer, but felt a deeper connection from walking the same path from Aish to the Jaffa gate, albeit to such different ends. We share the same first name. He has seven children; my wife and I have seven sons. He made aliyah five years ago; I made aliyah about five weeks ago.
The message I took from these events is that we are again at war, but this time the enemy is at the gate, literally. I first visited Israel in 1968 when no quarter of Jerusalem or remote outpost was unsafe. Now, with daily attacks on civilians and soldiers, no place feels secure. The attack at Jaffa Gate, the common meeting place and entrance to the Jewish quarter, signals a turning point in the current conflict. No one is immune and it’s time for action. But what can possibly be done to combat this new and insidious enemy tactic?
The first step is to accept the inconvenient truth that we are at war. Every Jewish civilian is now a “soldier” who must think and train accordingly. Consider that during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, there were 73 Israeli casualties, and in the current knife intifada, about 25 Jews have been murdered.
To stop these numbers from increasing, I recommend a psychological, physical and spiritual strategy:
The psychological component involves donning a self-defense of “CAP,” which means to be Concerned, Alert, and Prepared. Concern is a balanced state of mind that avoids the extremes of denial and worry. Alert means being aware of your surroundings without becoming nervous or hyper-vigilant. Consider altering the ubiquitous habit of plugging your ears with earphones or staring obliviously at your cell phone when walking. Prepared involves taking at least basic training in krav maga.
The physical component involves dressing for the occasion, as one would for driving a motorcycle or hiking the desert. Resume the traditional Jewish practice of wearing a hat, but use specially designed plastic “bump caps” or inserts that will blunt the impact of an attack (http://www.zoro.com, NIS 15). Wear a backpack, preferably leather, and carry your laptop or a commercially made protective insert (http://www.bulletblocker.com, NIS 388). Carry a defensive instrument, preferably your gun if you have a permit, or pepper spray, a knife or a weighted club.
The spiritual dimension involves the deep belief that despite our limited understanding, we can learn to face adversity with equanimity. Franklin Roosevelt offered an inspirational thought: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” But the spiritual approach goes further. One of the first things I learned after arriving in Israel was Rav Kook’s idea that if you are connected to the Absolute, you will have no fear.
Rabbi Reuben Birmajer and Ofer Ben-Ari were heroes because they did not let fear deter them from serving at the “front line,” despite their ultimate sacrifices. We can never know the reason for this tragic loss, but in their memories we can strengthen our resolve to carry on and take further precautions to neutralize the enemy at our gate.
Robert M. Schwartz, Ph.D. is a psychologist, writer, and former university professor who published scientific papers on positive thinking and coping with stress. He is most recently the author of Holy Eating: The Spiritual Secret to Eternal Weight Loss.