Personal Grief, National Mourning, and “Keeping Politics out of it”

by Leah Solomon

Leah Solomon, an L.A. native who has lived in Jerusalem for 15 years, has worked since 1997 in the field of experiential and pluralistic Jewish education, most recently at the Nesiya Institute.  She has studied at Harvard, the Conservative Yeshiva, and Pardes, and is the editor and publisher of the Anim Zemirot bencher. 

These thoughts grew in response to Facebook posts encouraging us just to grieve the deaths of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel, but to keep politics out of it, and not use them for ideology advancement:

Here’s what I’m struggling with (and have struggled with after every terrorist attack since I’ve lived here): The death of these boys is horrifying and heartbreaking. I cry when I imagine (as every Israeli parent has, over and over the past two weeks) experiencing what their parents have gone through. I cannot begin to comprehend their pain or the pain and fear of these children in the final moments of their lives.

But. The death of these three boys is no more awful or final or tragic than the deaths of the thousands of Jewish Israeli children lost every year to illness or in car accidents. Their parents’ grief is just as devastating. And those thousands of children are no less “ours” than Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. Yet we don’t mourn them, or come together as a “unified” people when they die. Thousands do not attend their funerals. For all that they are equally part of our Jewish family, and their lives just as senselessly cut short, we do not enter into a state of national mourning. Their deaths are a personal tragedy, not a national one.

So the calls to keep politics out of this, to separate our mourning from the context of ongoing, devastating conflict in which this tragedy took place, ring false to me. Because “politics”, and our overwhelming passionate feelings regarding the situation here in Israel and Palestine, are, honestly, the only reason we care so deeply about their deaths in more than a generalized “oh, how awful” kind of way. As I write these words, it feels crass, as if to say the outpouring of sorrow is less than genuine. But I don’t see it that way. I am sure it is deeply real. I just think we need to own the fact that much (most?) of the reason we’re so invested, so devastated, is because of our desperate hopes that we will live to see a better reality in this tragic place, fears that that will never happen, and a sense of impotence in bringing it about. And of course, while I believe that desperate hope is something most people in this region share, our views on how to get there are so, awfully, different.

I can’t detach my feelings of horror and pain at the deaths of these innocent boys from my horror and pain at the constant tragic background against which I live my life. At its roots, my (our) sense of mourning is as much about me (us) as it is about them. But if their deaths in some way push me, or any of us, to move away from passivity to working, even in small ways, toward more justice and peace, that can only be a blessing.

May we see peace in our day. May the Force for Good in this world guide us toward justice. And may we all do our part to ensure that our children will grow up in a world with less hate and more compassion.

3 Responses to “Personal Grief, National Mourning, and “Keeping Politics out of it””

  1. I disagree with part of this analysis.

    The grief is so tremendous because it was a kidnapping on Nationalistic grounds. Kidnapping, for all kinds of emotional reasons, is more powerful, it seems to me, than other horrors.

    Had they been killed in a terrorist attack and found immediately, sorry to say, the reaction would have been different.

    The drawn out affair and the cruelty of the events moved many people. The context of going home for Shabbat, from Gush Etzion (which plays a major role in the Israeli mythos certainly for the religious Zionists) powerfully influenced the reaction as well. They were doing what all our kids do all the time, where I kids do it, and were kidnapped and then killed (at least in the way the events were played out in our minds) hit home in a way that death by car accident or cancer doesn’t. Yes, any child could get sick or die in an accident, but we sublimate those things. This hit a raw nerve.


    Todd Berman · July 3rd, 2014 at 8:10 am
  2. Bravo to Leah, for her brave words of wisdom at a time when emotion is so raw.


    Kung Fu Jew · July 3rd, 2014 at 12:15 pm
  3. I’m sorry, but it is different when any child is murdered. That makes it different than a traffic accident or an illness. if we’re going to keep politics out of it, than all sides have to keep politics out of it.


    Susan · July 5th, 2014 at 2:57 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik