For We Were Strangers in Mitzrayim

11 Tamuz 5774

Trigger warning: This is about the boys who were killed in Israel and then in Palestine just recently, whose deaths have caused such a furor that Hamas and Israel are exchanging massive firepower at each other right now.

I don’t quite know what to say. I’ve hesitated to write anything for more than a week, for various reasons.

We were strangers in Mitzrayim. This is a hell of a way to demonstrate that we remember that. Actually, it’s about the farthest thing from a demonstration of remembering it – it’s demonstrating that we are forgetting it.

What we are seeing is former victims now becoming bullies. This happens a lot with children. The bullied kid gets big enough that he begins to bully.

By the way, I don’t care who started it. Neither should you. That isn’t the point. The point is that children were killed, mostly by adults, because some people decided it was okay to throw their weight around and bully someone weaker.

I think it’s horrifying. I think it’s horrifying that Hamas operatives felt it was okay to harm children. I think it’s equally horrifying that Jewish extremists then felt it was okay to retaliate against children. Nobody’s hands are clean in this situation. Nobody gets to say “but they started it.” That’s a childish excuse and it doesn’t hold water even on the playground or in the sandbox. It certainly should not hold water in an international conflict.

As far as I know, none of the boys involved were part of any political movements in Israel or in Palestine. None of them were soldiers (most of them weren’t old enough). None of them signed up to be sacrificial victims. And none of them deserved what happened to them.

The Israeli boys were killed by adults. The Palestinian boy was killed by a gang of teenagers, from what I understand, and his cousin was severely beaten by three Israeli police officers (who were also adults).

Why? I cannot come up with a good reason why. It’s the playground bully written large. It’s the fight for control of the sandbox. It’s senseless. And the reasons given by either side are also senseless (and often very childish).

As a new member of the Tribe (almost) I also didn’t know if I had any right to write about this. I’m not a Jew, yet. I’m only Jew-ish. I’ve never been to Israel. I’ve never been in the thick of this situation. But I’m taking on not just the Jewish belief system but the entire tribe, right? So I’m going to go with “I have a right and a responsibility to write about this because I will be a Jew, and soon, and this is part of what I’m accepting as the burden of being Jewish.”

Moving on.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. So why do we keep on doing it? Why is it that we keep on trading bomb for bomb and life for life? What is wrong with us? Are we so married to our ideologies and our territoriality that we aren’t willing to see the people on the other side of the firing line as human beings? Do we not remember how it was in Egypt and in Babylon? Do we not remember what it was like being second- or third-class citizens? We talk about it every year on Pesach to keep the memory fresh. Has everyone already forgotten for the year? Do we only remember it during the spring?

There has to be a solution that provides both for Palestine and for Israel. There has to be a two-state solution, where we respect boundaries and borders and stop insisting that everyone else should stay out of our sandbox. I don’t think that what’s going on right now in Gaza and in Tel Aviv is what G-d wanted of his children (and what drives me the most crazy about this? It’s just a continuation of sibling rivalry – Isaac and Ishmael – bickering over whose idea of G-d is going to be more important). This is insanity, folks.

None of those boys should have died. And none of them should have been “avenged.” And the people who carried out the revenge killing and beating are equally guilty and should be held equally responsible for what they did as the Hamas terrorists should be for what they did to the three Israeli teenagers.

Because this? Is not the act of a nation that shows mercy to the stranger. Not at all.

I can’t say it’s not what I signed up for. But I am going to say that it’s not what I was hoping to see in the people I’ve chosen to join. Because we can be better than this, and we should be better than this. And if that knowledge doesn’t frame our discussions and our negotiations, even in blog posts, then we’re no better than the Egyptians that enslaved us.

For we were strangers in Mitzrayim, and we are admonished over and over again in Torah to remember that, and to be gentle to the stranger. Now the Palestinians are the strangers, and we really ought to be better than this.

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