Chicagoans will hold a prayer vigil on Monday for three Israeli youths kidnapped in the West Bank last Friday by people who believe kidnapping minors and other forms of terrorism are legitimate way to “resist” Israel.
Desperate as the plight of these children might be, does it merit more, or more special, attention than that of hundreds of thousands of kids elsewhere in the world, from Nigeria to Pakistan, and from Syria to Iraq?
And what about the tens of thousands of Chicago kids who live in fear of intimidation and gun violence? Don't they deserve a vigil too?
Two reasons explain why Chicagoans will hold a vigil for Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel. First, any parent can relate to the trauma of having the most precious part of you wrenched away in an act of terror—just because they are Jewish. Jews around the world feel especially for these boys not because they are intrinsically more valuable than any other of God's other children. We feel this way, as members of an extended Jewish family, because Eyal, Gilad and Naftali are “our” boys.
Second, this kidnapping—like the ongoing traumas in the other parts of the world I mentioned—does not exist in a vacuum. These conflicts, in terms of their motivations and their methods, are related. There are common points of reference to the religiously-inspired hatred, intolerance, delegitimization and dehumanization occurring in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Palestinian territory, places where peacemaking seems especially difficult.
In the volatile Middle East, forces beget forces; efforts beget consequences. Things do not go according to plan (and often there is no plan). Will and commitment give way to accommodation and appeasement. Negotiation gives way to confrontation. Stability gives way to chaos. Tectonic plates shift. Peace talks collapse. New interests align; new alliances emerge. Old enmities surge.
All this conflict feels remote unless it happens in the backyard of your cousin's house, which for us Jews figuratively and literally, is Israel. Then the conflict becomes personal. But not only that; it also hits us where our values live.
Israel, with its flaws, is a bastion of success and a beacon of liberal values in a part of the world where hatred, slaughter, and expulsion are no vestiges of the past. They happen today and will happen tomorrow on a scale that boggles the mind. The perpetrators are neither liberators nor freedom fighters, but rather ruthless fanatics, who murder, kidnap, rape, amputate limbs; kill, destroy, and annihilate anything or anyone who stands in their way or proclaims another way.
Chicagoans will attend the vigil not only because we empathize with the plight of the kidnapped students and their families. We also will come because we recognize this kidnapping as a shot across our bow, and as a test of our resolve.
I pray for the day when Israelis and Palestinians (and people of all religions and ethnicities) resolve their differences and live alongside one another in harmony and peace. Meanwhile, what to do about the killers and the haters. Perhaps the still, small voice will speak to us from the silence of a vigil.