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Oct 24 2011

Happy for Shalit, But Mourning for My Friend

By at 3:59 pm

Fern Shawna Rykiss

My friend, Fern Shawna Rykiss, was murdered in 1989 when a terrorist hijacked her bus and plunged it into a ravine.  She was 17 years old.  Fern spent much of her senior year fundraising for her trip to Israel, and her murder at the hands of a terrorist was one of the first recorded murder-suicides of the first intifada.  Her murderer, who also murdered 15 other sons and daughters, escaped with a few cuts and bruises.  He was sentenced to life in prison because Israel does not condone the death penalty.

He was one of the prisoners released on Tuesday in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

So you might understand why I did not share the unbridled enthusiasm felt by so many on Tuesday when Gilad Shalit was released. Jordana Horn wrote a beautiful article about Israel and the Jewish people being a parent to Gilad, and I cannot disagree with anything she said. But if we are all parents to Gilad Shalit, then are we not parents to all of the children murdered by terrorists as well?

Fern Shawna Rykiss was an amazing person. My first memory of Fern is one of puzzlement.  I did not understand why a first grader was taking the year-end second grader exam.  When she started third grade with me, I had my answer. Fern was one of the few students from the original class to graduate from the Jewish high school.  Out of a class of about 100, almost everyone moved away or transferred to public school by 12th grade.  Her bubbe also endeared us to her; she used to wait outside school every day to walk her home.  When Fern was murdered, her family and our community was devastated.

I tried to keep silent most of the day on Tuesday, although I commented on one post to suggest that our joy be tempered a bit considering the many families who have lost loved ones to these newly freed terrorists.  While the response to my post acknowledged “joy can be separate from sadness and exist with it as well,” they chose to unabashedly ignore the sadness.

Yet what about the tradition that we break a glass at weddings? There are two accounts in the Talmud of Rabbis who broke vessels when they saw their son’s wedding celebration get out of hand. They broke vessels to calm things down. Another reason we break a glass at weddings, the most joyous of occasions, is to recall the destruction of the Temple. It is a reminder that even in times of great joy, we must acknowledge the times of sorrow as well as those who do not share our good fortune.

What about the tradition that we spill wine onto our plates at Passover?  We do this expressly to diminish the joy of drinking our cup of wine. It is a reminder that our freedom came with great suffering, which we do not celebrate even when it happens to our enemies.

My husband tells me that this is also the basis of good sportsmanship — even while celebrating one’s victory, we must temper our joy out of respect to the other side.  This is not only treating someone as you would want them to treat you (what if they had won?) but also decreasing their feelings of jealousy.  Thus, even in times of great joy we must acknowledge those who do not share our good fortune.

I am upset that so many people rejected feeling sadness for my friend and those of us who keep her memory sacred. Can we not find room in our hearts to feel motherly joy for Gilad’s release as well as profound loss for Fern? Can our hearts not overflow with happiness and be outraged at the injustice that a killer has been set free? Should we not be collectively comforting Fern’s mother the same way we sent best wishes and congratulations to Gilad’s family? Where is the outpouring of support and love to the victim’s loved ones?

The Fern I remember would be happy for Gilad’s family.  She would not have let vengeance stand in the way of a mother and her son.  But don’t ask me to celebrate Gilad’s release without feeling a twinge of sorrow — those of us who lost loved ones to the terrorists released on Tuesday will never have the opportunity to welcome them home.

Oct 18 2011

Gilad Shalit is Home

By at 3:18 pm
gilad shalit with noam shalit and netanyahu

Gilad with his father, Noam, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Photo: PMO/AFP/Getty Images

The deal that brought Gilad Shalit home to Israel after being held captive for five years by Hamas is well-known – more than 1,000 terrorists were released from Israeli prisons in exchange for Shalit’s freedom. By any calculation, common wisdom has it, it is a terrible price to pay for a nation which has no doubt that at least some of those released will attempt to kill again. It is a horrific price for the survivors of those who were killed by these people’s hands.

So why did Israel agree to this deal?

I know nothing of the inner diplomatic machinations that brought this deal about. But I believe that what was deemed to have mattered most was something far more basic: the love of parents for their son.

Noam and Aviva Shalit worked tirelessly for their son’s release from captivity, even while they were obviously tortured by his absence. But in thinking about the dilemma posed to them and the state of Israel by the conditions for Shalit’s release, I had to reflect on two things: our recent prayers on Yom Kippur, and the laws of our hearts as parents.

At the end of Yom Kippur, we chant the Avinu Malkeinu: “Our Father, Our King,” and implore God to have mercy on us. The title of the prayer reveals much about the Jewish people. In saying Avinu Malkeinu, we’re not just composing a fancy salutation to ingratiate ourselves.  God is our King, but in the very first word out of our mouths, we appeal to him not as our ruler, but first, as our father. A parent, the prayer suggests, would and should have more compassion on someone than would an emotionally-removed king. A king’s loyalty is to rules and hierarchy; a parent’s hierarchy, however, is one of the heart.

As a parent, we can never be completely emotionally detached when it comes to our children. We know that we can’t, and we don’t want to be – the depth of our love is testament to our depth as people.  Our love makes us human. As parents, we would do anything to get our children back if they were forcibly taken from us. Anything – however odious or illogical. Love triumphs over reason, and mercy over justice.

The state of Israel became that parent to Gilad Shalit. Israel has a long-standing policy of never leaving one of its own behind, to the point of even negotiating to retrieve corpses of its soldiers from behind enemy lines. Shalit’s own parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit, insured that Israel would become a third parent to their child. They sat outside in a tent, not allowing them or their son to be forgotten. They showed Gilad as they knew him – not only as a person and soldier, but as a brother and son. Shalit is a man – but to parents, he was their son and child. To them, he was priceless.

And at the end, the state of Israel became a parent rather than a king. Israel opted for mercy rather than justice. Most would acknowledge, whether in public or private, that justice was remarkably ill-served in this bargain. Hamas was allowed to bargain with the life of an Israeli, and to bargain successfully, with no punishment or sanction for having kidnapped a man for five years. People who were found to have helped murder civilians were released from prison to victory parades in Palestinian streets. It was not fair.

But today’s truth lies in the embrace of parents getting their child back from the jaws of an unimaginable fate.

Gilad Shalit is home.

Oct 17 2011

Weekly Roundup: Performance Birth, The Cost of Kids & More

By at 2:36 pm

All the Jewish parenting news you probably didn’t have time to read last week.

Aviva Shalit

- Debra Nussbaum Cohen details the deep sense of kinship she feels with Aviva Shalit, the mother of the longtime Hamas captive Gilad Shalit. (The Sisterhood)

- Performance artist Marni Kotak says she plans to give birth before an audience of Brooklyn gallery-goers. (The Daily Mail, via Mom365)

- Raising a child through age 18 costs the middle-class American family an average of $226,920 — and that’s apparently without a Bugaboo Donkey. (CNNMoney)

- Room for Debate has a lively discussion (though one in which female voices are glaringly underrepresented) about the repercussions of declining birthrates on the Earth and the economy. (Room for Debate)

- More than one in 10 families don’t adhere to the vaccine schedule set out by the Centers for Disease Control — with many parents delaying, or skipping altogether, inoculations that protect against such illnesses as chicken pox and measles, a new study shows. (The Associated Press, via NPR)

- After three years, and more than 1,200 posts, Lisa Belkin, the writer who has helmed The New York Times’ Motherlode blog since its inception, packed up her diaper bag, and headed to The Huffington Post. (MotherlodeWWD)

- While many European countries limit the number of children that single sperm donors can father, there are no such restrictions in the U.S. or Canada.  And one Toronto-based filmmaker, conceived with the help of donor sperm, believes that he may have as many as 1,000 biological siblings. (Montreal Gazette, via Babble)

- Dr. Perri Klass explains how a bilingual baby’s brain processes language, and why children exposed to two languages from an early age are “more cognitively flexible” than their monolingual peers.  (The New York Times)

- And “Dragon Mom” Emily Rapp writes poignantly about raising a child with Tay-Sachs, a genetic disorder prevalent among Ashkenazic Jews (though Rapp is not Jewish). “[My son] won’t prosper or succeed in the way we have come to understand this term in our culture; he will never walk or say ‘Mama,’ and I will never be a tiger mom,” she writes. “The mothers and fathers of terminally ill children are something else entirely. Our goals are simple and terrible: to help our children live with minimal discomfort and maximum dignity.” (The New York Times)

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