Galilee Diary #587, September 12, 2012
From [the prophets] I learned the niggardliness of our
moral comprehension, the incapacity to sense the depth of misery caused
by our own failures...
The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets,
the more powerfully it became clear to me ... that in regard to cruelties
committed in the name of a free society, some are guilty, while all are
-Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1973
We returned from the inspiring tour of the Galilee Jewish-Arab youth circus in the US
to lurid headlines about a "lynch" in central Jerusalem, when a group
of Jewish teenagers went from trading insults with Arab teens who
happened to pass by, to beating them up, so badly that one was
hospitalized in critical condition (in a similar event about a year ago,
the victim did not survive). What drew, perhaps, as much attention as
the event itself was the statement by one of the perpetrators that he
was sorry he had failed to kill the Arab teen. And if that didn't upset
you, then you could read follow-up interviews with Jewish teens who had
not been involved, but who identified with that sentiment. The op-ed
pages have been full of commentary in the ensuing days, regarding the
meaning of and responsibility for these and similar events.
you get beyond feeling sick, and angry, and perhaps ashamed, you are
left pondering what to make of the phenomenon. Here are some of the
The failure of the social services: Thousands of teens are
"marginal," "at risk," in this country, and many are beyond the limited
reach of the services meant to help them (see David Grossman's novel
and movie "Someone to Run With"). Many of these, in Jerusalem, are kids
who rebelled against their Ultra-Orthodox homes and have nowhere to go,
no support system, and a lot of anger. (The Reform Movement runs a
support group for young adults from this population).
A racist take on the world, exacerbated by the security reality:
Arabs are our enemy; therefore all Arabs are our enemy, and can't be
trusted indeed ought to be eliminated. There are so many channels
communicating this message, deliberately and not, subtly and not, that
you have to make a conscious effort to resist it. And for the most part,
our lives are segregated, in residence, in education, in social and
The abandonment of the welfare state: The glaring gap between rich
and poor, the growing underclass, the sense of embitterment and
disenfranchisement by lower and even middle classes, are undermining
social solidarity and, in a familiar pattern, giving rise to a search
for scapegoats or at least for those who are more powerless than we.
The failure of the family and the school to instill values of
respect and civility and non-violence: Like all modern societies, here
to we like to blame the school for all of our ethical failings. Unless
you're a teacher, in which case you blame the parents. In any case, the
claim that society has lost its traditional value-moorings, becoming
permissive and afraid to state clear values and exercise discipline, is a
commonly heard chorus when we talk about youth violence (in all
population sectors, Jewish and Arab).
The internal tension within Zionism: Can we be a "normal" nation and
still be a light unto the nations, or are we now picking the rotten
fruits of normalization?
Relax. There are headlines like this and youth like this in
every country and in every generation; let's keep this in proportion.
All of the above? None of the above?
In any case, there will surely be more such headlines, and we will
each have to decide how to deal with our responsibility for them.