A Painful Indifference
To the pain of the collective Jewish heart over the inhuman murders of five members of the Fogel family of Itamar must be added a second stab: the world's indifference. Israeli Jews, especially if they are "settlers," have been so dehumanized that the most brutal murders elicit barely a yawn.
In Gaza, Palestinians ululated and passed out candies in celebration. That's predictable. The world's silence hurt more.
BBC TV did not find time for even one story on the slaughter. Its website mentioned it en passant, in order to criticize Israel's subsequent announcement of renewed settlement building, but did not report the Gazan celebrations. The New York Times, which can be counted on for a front-page photo of any Arab accidentally killed in an Israeli response to missile attacks on its cities, ran no photos of the Fogel family.
Jewish blood is different. Here's how Reuters described last week's bombing at a bus stop in Jerusalem that killed one and wounded dozens of others: "Police said it was a 'terrorist attack' – Israel's term for a Palestinian strike."
The Guardian and Independent report that columnist Melanie Phillips is under investigation by the British Press Council for describing the Fogels' murderers as "savages." And what are those who slit the throats of an eleven and a four-year-old boy and sever the head of their infant sister? Freedom fighters? Did the Press Council also investigate Dave Brown for a cartoon of a grossly obese Ariel Sharon eating Palestinian children, for which he was awarded the British Cartoon Society's annual prize.
But anti-Semitism alone does not explain the scant attention paid to the barbaric murder of the Fogel family. There is also a fear of confronting unpleasant truths. To ask what kind of human being could look at a sleeping baby and cut off her head would force one to confront the frenzy of hatred into which the Palestinians have been whipped by the official Palestinian media and school system. The Fogels' murderers stand a good chance of being declared "glorious martyrs" by the Palestinian Authority, and having a town square named after them. As long as Palestinians are possessed by a death cult that elevates the murder of Jews into the greatest imaginable deed, there will be no peace. And that is unpleasant to contemplate.
A similar impulse lies behind the media's downplaying of the brutal half-hour assault on journalist Lara Logan in Cairo's Tahrir Square last month by assailants shouting, "Jew, Jew." (She isn't.) Her own employer, CBS News, suppressed any mention of the attack for a full five days, lest it destroy the happy picture of the Cairo protesters as freedom-loving democrats – just like us.
Neville Chamberlain did not consider that handing over the Sudetenland to Hitler would only whet his appetite for the conquest of the rest of Europe, and so too European elites today avoid confronting the way their society is being taken over by millions of unassimilated Muslims. They prefer to fret about Islamaphobia. The BBC, for instance, labels Dutch politician Geert Wilders "Europe's most dangerous man," for insisting on talking about that internal threat.
President Obama's refusal to call the shooting on a bus of GIs in Germany, killing two, by a Bosnian Muslim shouting Al-lahu Akbar, a terrorist act is textbook denial. So too Attorney-General Eric Holders refusal to acknowledge that Islamist beliefs might provide a connecting thread between the Ft. Hood massacre, the Times Square bomber, and the x-mas day underwear bomber. The army managed to compile an 80-page report on the Ft. Hood massacre without once mentioning Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan's radical Islamic beliefs. Even the Obama administration's focus on "Al Qaeda and its affiliates" is a form of denial. It is far easier to imagine that the enemy is an identifiable group of bad guys than a pervasive ideology of world conquest.
Jews have a way of forcing the world to think about unpleasant truths. But the failure to do so will only come back to haunt those who ignore Jewish suffering as well.
The Falsification of Purim
Chazal hint to the spiritual heights possible on Purim in their comparison of Purim to Yom Kippur (k'purim). I've experience that exhilaration many times. Many of my most cherished memories are of Purim seudot past. One is of a gathering on a snowy Jerusalem day of young couples, in which the husbands all learned together. The memory of the love of one another and of Torah expressed at that seudah remains vivid today, when we are all grandparents. I'll never forget one friend – today a mashgiach in a major yeshiva – breaking down at our Purim table over the perceived necessity to leave full-time learning and return to America to work.
Wine played the role envisioned for it by Chazal at each of these Purim meals: Nichnas yai'in yotzei sod – wine enters and secrets come out. The sod revealed was deep love of Torah. As a friend once described a visit to Rav Aharon Feldman on Purim, "The rest of the year Rav Feldman asks you how you are and starts speaking divrei Torah; on Purim he forgets to ask how you are." Purim visitors to Rav Moshe Schapiro will find a room filled with talmidim asking him questions from every direction and sharing insights on the Megillah. Fortunate are those whose contributions merit a playful slap/pat from Reb Moshe.
Precisely because of these powerful Purim experiences, I am so saddened by the ziyuf (falsification) of Purim one too frequently witnesses. The drinking at the Purim seudah is supposed to bring out the distinction between the Jew and the gentile. But the street scene too frequently reminds me of the sloshed men, still in their Sunday best, I once witnessed at pub closing time in Ireland. By 11:00 a.m. parents in my neighborhood are afraid to send young children out with mishloach manos, and adults are reluctant to drive to friends lest their cars be assaulted by drunken young men jumping on the hoods.
I found myself locking the door to keep out hordes of drunken collectors (for whom it was not even Purim), by whom I had no wish to be danced around the room. But I'll be more than happy to empty my wallet next year to those bochurim who come loaded instead with divrei Torah.
My wife claims that I thrive on pressure. By far my most productive periods are those just prior to trips abroad. When things are really clicking, I can finish two weeks worth of columns and tie up months of loose ends – unpaid bills, forms to be filled out – in the three days before a trip. The same columns would take at least twice as long at home, where I can always find something else to read to push off writing.
From the time I entered college until I graduated law school, I did not manage to finish a single semester without at least one incomplete. Over the last twenty years, however, I've had to learn to deal with two or three deadlines each week: There are no incompletes for journalists, just pink slips. Those deadlines have done wonders for my previous habits of procrastination.
During my more than a decade in kollel, one of the biggest challenges was that time seemed to stretch before me as an unbroken expanse. If I failed to learn well one day, it was too easy to say that I would make it up the next. For each of us there is an ultimate deadline and not everything can be left to the future, but that realization often doesn't hit until our word recall is not what it once was.
In the world of learning, there are few measures of progress or tests. The only demarcation is between yeshiva and kollel, and the difference is not that great. Pressure must be self-imposed. My guess is that those who enjoy the greatest satisfaction in learning, and are the most likely to become maggidei shiurim and authors of seforim, are not necessarily those seen as the most talented in their youth, but those who are best able to set concrete goals. And that is best done in conjunction with an experienced talmid chacham who knows the capabilities of the individual bochur or avreich well and who can guide him to reaching his potential. .