Thursday was a day of contrasts. Pardes hosted a day of community service in memory of two students who were killed in a terrorist attack 5 years ago at Hebrew University. A Palestinian open fired on students at Merkaz Harav, a religious Zionist yeshiva in Jerusalem. The students ranged from 15-26 years old. Outside of the school people were shouting ‘Death to the Arabs.’ Hamas claims responsibility and bathes in the violence. Arabs in East Jerusalem and West Bank face increased scrutiny. The Israeli right calls for building more settlements.
I wonder will there ever be peace in this G-d forsaken part of the world.
The terrorist attack shattered the relative quiet that Jerusalemites have been enjoying–albeit cautiously enjoying–for the past few years. It highlights the tenuous nature of our existence here. Sometimes I feel like I’m living right on top of a cliff that could break off the mountain at any moment and send me flying to earth.
On a cab ride home last night, the driver asked me if I had heard of the attack. I said I did and I thought it was pretty scary. He said it wasn’t scary, just sad. I asked him what would happen next. He said the Israelis would strike down like they always do. His words didn’t bring me any comfort, and I wondered if the crackdown would help matters in the long run. Then he said, we still have to go on, and that I shouldn’t worry.
Which brings me to the earlier part of the day. Our day of chesed celebrated the lives of two generous souls, Ben Blustein and Marla Bennett, who were killed in a terrorist attack. Thanks to the work of Debra, who coordinates volunteer activities at Pardes and two Pardes students, Becca and Mitzvah Dave–as he is known–we had a full day of studying and volunteering at a number of different institutions throughout the city.
In the morning I learned with my Talmud teacher about an interesting ritual dealing with the the breaking of a heifer’s neck. The ritual springs out of a case where a body is found in a field and nobody knows who murderer is. The elders of the nearest city basically go to a dry ravine and break a cow’s neck, saying over the cow that they did not have a hand in the victim’s murder.
Later in the morning Pardes students went off to their sites enthusiastically and others stayed at Pardes to set up for a Purim party for mentally disabled young adults from a group called Shekel. I stayed at Pardes to create Purim cards that people could buy for 3 shekels–the money would go to the people of Sderot. The adults from Shekel came later that afternoon and we made Purim masks and mishloach manot baskets with them. We also had a music room where Maury Moshe, who played the guitar, and Henry, who played the steel drum (!) entertained the crowd. Our guests looked like they were having a great time, and one of our new friends danced the whole time!
The sweetness of the party contrasts so starkly with the bitterness of the attack. But it reminds me that we have to continue in the works of lovingkindness and not give in to violence and hardening of our hearts. Here’s what the Rosh Yeshiva of Pardes wrote in his message to the Pardes community:
With our students we will study in our Beit Midrash. On Tuesday we shall send thirty Pardes educators for six weeks to America for their student teaching. We shall continue our regimen of study, prayer, and the doing of loving-kindness. They will not deter us.
I recommend that you look at the links below to read about Ben and Marla. Their stories are beautiful, heartbreaking and moving. The Chesed day at Pardes is surely one of the best ways that they can be memorialized.