/ articles for review

A Letter to our Family in the West Bank

The murder of the Fogels was a tragedy for the Jewish family as a whole. Exploiting their deaths for political gains desecrates their names and the holiness of the lives taken

It was with great sadness and horror that I and the rest of Israel received the news of the murder of the parents and three children of the Fogel family. We don’t condemn this act, we mourn it. That is what family does. We are after all, family. Over the last number of years, it seems that all too often, we have forgotten this simple fact. We have allowed our political differences to drive a wedge between us.
It is natural for families to unite together in times of crisis. It is a tragedy, however, when a family needs a crisis to remind it of who it is. There are going to be many who will exploit the Fogels’ deaths to achieve political gains. They are desecrating their names and the holiness of the lives which were taken. When the response to these murders is to expand settlements or condemn the army or government of Israel one is again driving a wedge between us.
The Fogels lived in Itamar and were settlers. This, however, does not make it into a settlers’ tragedy, but one for the Jewish family as a whole. Any attempt by one sector to “own” their deaths and consequently inherit political compensation is not only vulgar but a profound mistake. Those who offer “you” a few hundred more houses for the West Bank, or who offer declarations of thousands more, are bearers of empty gifts.
In our family, there is profound disagreement. For some, the land of Israel is imbued with an ultimate holiness, and holding on to every inch of it is necessary for the redemption of Israel. For others, the West Bank is a strategic asset which cannot be forfeited without forfeiting Israel’s ability to survive. For others still, Israel’s survival requires territorial compromise and the creation of a Palestinian state, without which Israel will cease to be a democratic state and will become a pariah amongst the nations. For others, peace is a Jewish and moral aspiration, and an Israel that does not place those at the center of its values and policies threatens its core identity.
The problem we face is that for some, to build and maintain the settlements is a Jewish and existential need, and anyone who does not understand that is endangering our State and our people. For others, to build and maintain the settlements itself creates a Jewish and existential crisis which endangers our State and our people.
This difference is real. It cannot be glossed over. In the aftermath of the murders there will be a few days of grace. We will be making a profound error if we think that this grace can sustain itself.
We, members of the family, need to recognize that our family is at risk. The culture of political debate in Israel threatens our very existence. While in every family there are differences, ours are very deep. In such an instance, the family structure can be preserved only if we both find some shared values on which to build our lives and to erect boundaries which we all agree should not be crossed.
As to the first, our family’s tradition can be of assistance. While the land of Israel is clearly central, it hardly exhausts all of Judaism’s values and aspirations. While we disagree on the centrality of the land of Israel, and many of us debate issues of faith and ritual, there is still much in our tradition that we can share and hold in common.
The framers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence understood this need and called for the establishment of an Israeli society founded on the ethics of the Prophets. The problem is that the ethics of the Prophets is a slogan with amorphous content. Our family needs to fill it with real content if we are going to build a shared life despite our differences.
We also need, however, to maintain much clearer boundaries. While we may not always find shared values, it is critical that we at least achieve a consensus as to the lines that we cannot cross in our relationship with each other.
While we disagree with each other’s policies, we must each begin a systematic review of our past language and actions and remove all vestiges of hatred and sectarianism. We must reestablish arenas such as the Army and the Supreme Court as above our political debates. We must establish the laws of our country as a given which cannot be violated. We must remove hateful speech and hurtful language from our vocabulary. We must recognize that we all love our people and our country equally, even though we may disagree about how best to build it.
Our rabbis in the Midrash, “The Ethics of the Fathers According to Rabbi Natan,” teach us that when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, he chose to break the Torah rather than give it to Israel, for at the time the consequences of giving the Torah to people worshiping the Golden Calf would have made all of Israel subject to destruction.
As a family we need to begin to put the family first. Judaism is a way of life for a family, and without the family it will lose its place and foundation. Now is the time for us all to begin to act like Moses. It is time for our political and religious leaders who claim to speak for us to emulate Moses, as well.
We can easily separate from each other, each holding on to their truths and religious and moral certainty, or instead, we can use these few days of grace, a grace created by the blood of the innocent, to open a different chapter and reestablish ourselves as a family that knows not only how to mourn together but to live together.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

Join our email list for more Hartman ideas

Add a comment
Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics