Friday in Jerusalem, the morning after the terrorist killed eight boys in the Mercas Harav Yeshiva, the Old City seemed fuller than ever with groups of Israeli youth and soldiers and police. The Kotel that night seemed more crowded than it had been in a while. Maybe it was Rosh Chodesh Adar, maybe it was those who’d come for the memorial service in the morning and just decided to stick around. But the mood was intensely prayerful and oddly warm.
I had been invited for Shabbat in Jerusalem, and I was glad to be there. Earlier that morning I’d uttered one of those dumb, clichéd rhetorical questions people sometimes utter at times like these: “how could anyone purposefully kill children?” And my hostess replied that it was the wrong question. And that it was pointless to ask the right question, “How can anyone kill anyone.”
As if in self defense, perhaps the answer that a great many people around me seemed to reach was to flip the question over again, into a command: “take care of one another. Be kind to one another.” That’s at least what I felt as once more we were all reminded of how fragile we were, and how irreplaceable. That seemed to be the mood.
Because if you think of absolute evil (the killing of innocent children) on one end, and absolute good on the other, there's a whole spectrum in between, and you can almost feel everyone shifting the balance a little, being a little kinder.
This weekend I was offered no unsolicited advice. Instead, I was offered help without asking for it. A mother and her two daughters, without saying a word, took my bag and folded up my stroller and stowed it as I boarded a bus in Jerusalem. When I got off the bus, they were waiting with the stroller opened and ready. A young Haredi mother whose children were playing in a public fountain next to mine late Friday morning saw that my daughter was impatient with me. She picked up my daughter and fed her something I wouldn’t have, but it did the trick.
I myself even interfered in a family of five young children,because it felt like we all belonged together. Two very young boys were dragging a baby no older than mine up steep stairs, holding the stroller with one hand each, heatedly debating something. I lifted the stroller (my girl, in the ergo, wasn’t thrilled, but big deal) and carried it up the stairs despite the boys’ protests. “Break your brother’s head when I’m not around” I thought.
I know this is simplistic, maybe even naïve and sentimental, but times like these all I can think to do is to respond with as much kindness as I can, and to open myself to receive it. Not for the sake of others, but for my own sake. So I don’t get cynical and bitter. So I’m not tempted to act inhumanely, like those who want to hurt do. Because, regardless of one’s politics, an attack on a child seems, to some extent, like an attack on all children, and on all parents. It feels to me as if we all hurt, though obviously, not to the same extent the parents of those eight were hurt-- and need consolation, no matter how inadequate and small the gestures seem to be.