Grasping for Comfort: Faigy Mayer, Stabbings & Firebombing

RabbiAryehSternSliderThese last two weeks which began with Faigy Mayer’s suicide, continued with the stabbings (and murder of a sixteen year old girl, Shira Banki) at the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, and ended with the firebombing and murder of a Palestinian toddler, Ali Dawabsha (possibly by extreme religious Zionists, though no one has been charged with the crime yet) have been a very rough stretch for the Orthodox Jewish community. The cause of these tragedies and how they do (or do not) tie into larger problems in the Orthodox Jewish world have been the subject of heated debate.

Do some ex-Chasidim get pushed to suicide, in part because of the alienation they feel after leaving their community of origin or did the media and anti-Orthodox crowd blame the religious community too much for Mayer’s death when the real cause was much more complicated? Was the man at the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade aided and abetted, in part, because some Orthodox Jews have taken the Biblical prohibition of homosexual sex and turned it into a homophobia which fuels extremism or did the media and anti-Orthodox crowd jump too quickly to call the man at the parade “Charedi” when tons of Charedi leaders spoke out against his actions and no one actually supports what he did? Does extreme Zionism lead to acts of violence and murder or are most religious Zionists passionate about the land of Israel but would never actually hurt anyone?

Being the extreme moderate that I am, I find myself hearing both sides of every argument. Being the religious Jew that I am, I wonder if there is something we can learn, some way for us to grow, so that these terrible, terrible deaths did not happen in vain. Of course I noticed that this stretch of sadness began in the days leading up to the Jewish national day of calamity – Tisha B’Av (which marks millennia of exile brought on by senseless hatred) and ended on the eve of Shabbos Nachamu – the Sabbath of comfort. Shabbos Nachamu sets off “seven weeks of comfort” – the seven haftarahs of comfort which are read in shul on Shabbos for the seven weeks after Tisha B’Av and end in time for Rosh Hashanna, as finding comfort from deep pain does not happen in an instant.

What grain of comfort could one possibly find in the wake of such tremendous grief? The first moment I began to feel a ray of hope was when I saw an image (pictured above) of the chief rabbi of Jerusalem visiting the victims of the Gay Pride stabbings – two men from different ideologies, maybe even “warring camps,” holding hands in peace and friendship. Next, a Facebook group popped up where formerly observant Jews and currently religious Jews came together so they could start spending Shabbos with one another and lessen the divide. Finally, I saw a picture of a religious Zionist rabbi and an imam from Duma embracing after the terror attack.

As I tried to figure out how these feelings connected to nechama (comfort), I started combing through dictionaries and concordances to understand if there was a deeper meaning to “nechama” and was pleased to discover that a secondary meaning of the word is “reconsidering” or “regret.” It all seemed to come together – extreme acts showed both sides that vitriol and hatred of “the other” is a dangerous road to even begin to walk down and that we must focus on the many, many threads of commonality that we share.

On Shabbos Nachamu we read the words of the prophet Isiah “Nachamu nachamu, ami” (“Comfort, comfort, my nation”), but there’s another section of Isiah later on in this book, perhaps even more famous, which describes the Utopian times (y’mos hamoshiach) which were prophesied thousands of years ago to come one day. People incorrectly say that “the lion will lay down with the lamb,” but Isiah actually says “the wolf will dwell with the lamb.” With different parties reaching across the aisle in all these different spheres, in the wake of these tragedies, perhaps our comfort is closer than we realized.

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  1. I really appreciate your translation of nechama as reconsideration. if you think of yeshuot venechamot you realize how much we have to reconsider the gains G-d gives us! Thank you

  2. there are frumma yidden who appreciate and respect what that gay parade killer did. There are posters up in Mea Shearim saying something like “nice job!”

    And of course (I imagine) someone will tear them down at some point. And other frumma yidden will put them back up.

    And some rabbis will say for public consumption that it was terrible what he did. And some will mean it. And some shtark, frum, yidden — frum longer than you’ve been alive — will say it was bad, but it was also good. It was terrible, but G-d was watching. And supporting the gay parade killer will come naturally.

    I feel like the whole “let’s put a happy face” on Judaism approach has one glaring problem: it isn’t true. There are Jews who gravitate to rough passages and talmudic ideas in Judaism, there are Jews who gravitate to the nice stuff. But, really, there are posters today in Meah Shearim. There are people toasting the death of that Palestinian baby.

    Is it you? Obviously not. But not every Jew is you. Some see things in the Talmud — Jewish things, G-dly things — that would upset you, but which they accept as Jewish and G-dly.

    Tonight, in hushed circles, some rabbi somewhere in eretz sees the great good in last week’s events. The only honest course is to tell the whole truth about it.

    I have little respect for what Judaism teaches — only because I see the whole of it, not just the nice parts. I have a lot of trouble respecting those who sell Judaism, because they lie about it. I’ve been there. I watch it. It is disgusting. We should defund kiruv. Not because it is religion, but because there is too much lying going on. Deception is such a huge turn off.

    All movements – including reform – are intellectual failures. All lead to failed states like North Korea. People gravitate to them because they are totalitarian – some people want that certainty and order. But how disgusting totalitarianism is to those who feel otherwise. How disgusting North Korea is. A prison state.

    Fight prison states. Even if G-d wrote the Torah, something is wrong with a prison state. Even if G-d is a totalitarian, something is wrong with that.

    Weak, feckless, pathetic kiruv needs to own up. these people are defending the indefensible with lies. that’s all i care about.

    otherwise, nice post!

    Tuv

    • Tuv

      From the tone of your comments, it sounds like you have an ax to grind!

      Allow me to try and address some of your grievances.
      Yes there are idiots who will commend some of these murderers. Some of them may even call themselves ‘Rabbis’. Jews are humans too, with faults that need to be overcome. We have problems just like the rest of the world. That is why we have the Torah, to show us how to deal with them.
      Meah Shearim is one neighborhood. There are hundreds of Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods around the globe. And within that one neighborhood, there is a very vocal MINORITY who probably have nothing better to do with their lives other than to make trouble. With all due respect, you cannot use them a proof to talk about Frum Yidden in general.
      You talk about offensive comments in the Talmud. But the multitude of commentaries on the Talmud are proof that these words are not necessarily meant to be taken literally.
      I have lived as a frum Jew in a frum community my whole life. I have seen people who are less than upright with black hats, peyos (sidelocks) and beards. But in my experience, to borrow a phrase, they are the ‘bad apples’ a barrel of otherwise delicious green apples. There is plenty of goodness in the Jewish world. Just look around you at the unparalleled chessed that is offered to everyone in the community, regardless oftheir background.
      And keep in mind that even the best people slip up. As I said earlier, Jews are human and are subject to human complexities just like the rest of the world. Just ask one the frum therapists who practice in the community! Our task is to deal with our issues using the Torah as a guide.

      I get the feeling that you experienced the human side of our nation a lot in your life. I hope that you will one day come to see your Heritage from a more positive angle.

      • i absolutely believe there is good in the frum world. i was not saying that i believe there is only bad there.

        what i do believe is the “bad” — some of which is actually Jewish thought — is overlooked, underplayed, written out by Jews who want to sell Judaism.

        Judaism has good. Of course. Some of it sickens us and we like to overlook it, or choose “not to believe those parts.”

        Pretending otherwise is what makes me annoyed. I hate pretending, and I see quite a bit of it in kiruv and Judaism generally too.

        I would never ever say there is not good in there. That’s a red herring.

        My final point:

        All movements have to call themselves good, or true. Mainly they just state this like it is fact.

        Usually, they then prevent anyone from prolonged exposure to outside voices, lest they learn that some of these “facts” and “truths” are perhaps not so certain. OJ is for sure guilty of this particular tactic.

        To me? The shame is in the proclaiming something is true, and then telling people “but you cannot look for yourself.”

        It is a form of deception and serious manipulation. All movements are guilty of it. It is really horrifying, and not just when the guilty party is Nazis, Commies, Islam, Christians, Scientologists – but when it is Judaism too.

        If OJ ideas cannot withstand exposure to college or outside voices or outside arguments, ideas, history, etc. — just stop calling them FACTS. Admit it is TRADITION.

        Kiruv is where I watched this up close. It is disturbing. It is bad news. It leads to very strange patterns within Judaism of threats and fear and fundamentalism.

        If we said “it’s a tradition, we don’t know the past really. Even Rambam thinks revelation is in some ways a peculiar idea” — maybe those guys who put up those posters would be embarrassed..?

        Maybe that girl would be alive? Maybe OJ folks in Israel could work, serve, pay taxes? Maybe OJ kids in Brooklyn could get a modern education? Maybe gay OJ kids wouldn’t sometimes kill themselves?

        Think of the other once in a while. Be a mentsch. Don’t be so bloody self serving all the time. That’s all anyone is asking.

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

          Thanks for your comment, Tuv, but JITC is a place where we are OK admitting that there are challenges within Orthodoxy yet we still think as a package deal it’s worth it. We’re also into secular knowledge and exposure to other types of thinking. Be careful not to paint all of Orthodoxy with a broad brush. There are whitewashers for sure, but there are many people who live and speak and teach with nuance.

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