Responding to Murder

The last photo of Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Na'ama with their sons
The last photo of Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Na’ama with their sons

Near the end of the 2014 school year three boys–Naftali Fraenkal, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach–were kidnapped. They were taken on their way home from studying in yeshivas and they totally disappeared. Aside from the recording of phone call to emergency services, we heard nothing. The entire country prayed and said Tehillim (Psalms) for them. The IDF, police, border police, and volunteers searched for them. For 18 long days, nothing.

Nishmat, the girls’ seminary where Naftali’s mother taught, held a public recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) for recovery and return of the three boys. Following the recitation of Psalms, some of the students and faculty gathered and began to sing, led by Rabbanit Chana Henkin, dean of the school. I was part of the group, there because I am a volunteer English tutor in the college prep program for Ethiopian girls.

About twenty of us stood in a circle, our arms around each others’ shoulders, singing, begging G-d to bring the boys home, begging Him for mercy. Rabbanit Henkin smiled as she encouraged us to sing. It was a sad smile, one that radiated warmth and concern. As the words of one prayer died, she started another one.

And then she began singing words from Avinu Malkenu. Avinu Malkenu, our Father, our King. It is a long prayer asking G-d for all sorts of things: to remove the plague from our people, to keep the sword from us, to destroy the plans of our enemies, to remember us for life. It seems to go on for forever, covering more than two pages in most prayer books. Near the end we sing, “May this hour be an hour of mercy and a time of favor before You.” The tune is slow. Like many prayers, it is set in a minor key, and sounds sad, forlorn. I closed my eyes as I sang. We sang it over and over, our arms around each other, crying in hope for the lives of three missing boys. When I opened my eyes, I saw Rabbanit Henkin, her eyes sad above her soft smile.

About a week later, the boys were found, buried in a shallow grave.

At Simchat Torah services this week, the men started singing that line from Avinu Malkenu while parading and dancing with the Torah scrolls. The tune has become enmeshed in my memory with the names of the three boys who had been killed before any of us knew they had been kidnapped.

The tune is also enmeshed with the vision of Rabbanit Henkin’s sad smile. Rabbanit Henkin, who today is mourning her own son. Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Naama were killed by Arabs last week while driving home from Elon Moreh to Neria with their four sons. The boys, aged four months to nine years, were unharmed. The attack was cut short when one of the murderers accidently shot one of his colleagues.          

What do you say to the parent of a child who has been murdered?

It doesn’t matter if the child is in his teens, as Naftali, Gil-Ad, and Eyal were, or in his 30s as Rav Henkin was. He is still a child to his parents.

Words fail us when confronted with such a tragedy. We fall back on customary polite phrases. “I’m sorry for your loss.” “May their memory be a blessing.” We say what tradition stipulates: “May G-d comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

We will always be reminded that they died in an act of violence. When referring to someone who has died, we add zichrono l’bracha to their name, may his memory be a blessing. But Eitam and Naama Henkin will always be remembered with the phrase Hashem y’nakem damam, May G-d avenge their blood.

We don’t say, the IDF will avenge their death. We don’t form posses and vigilante groups and ride through the country burning and murdering as payback. That’s not the Jewish way.  As Rabbanit Chana Henkin said in an interview with Arutz 7, “We do not demand revenge but that leadership moves to provide security for residents.” (Her whole interview is here)

Some young men have started to take vengeance for Arab violence into their own hands. People have performed “price tag” attacks on Arab cars and churches. Some have even invaded Arab towns and burned houses. We do not celebrate such violence. Our leaders do not praise them for these acts. The Prime Minister and other members of the government severely criticize these actions. The police search for the perpetrators. Several of those who engage in such activities have been put in indefinite detention.  

When news of the Henkin murders reached Palestinian cities, the residents celebrated by firing their guns in the air and setting off fireworks. The killers were praised as “heroic.” The “heroes” had checked that the road was clear of police, military, and other vehicles. They had stopped the car by firing at it with a rifle. They had killed the adults in the front seat by firing at them with pistols multiple times at close range. According to police reports, after the murderers were arrested they said they would have killed the children as well, but one of them dropped his gun upon being shot by his friend, and they left the scene.

How much courage does it take to shoot a car with a rifle? How much courage does it take to repeatedly shoot critically injured people? How much courage does it take to shoot small children buckled into safety seats?

The people I take as my heroes are those who will raise the orphans, trying to help them grow normally despite having witnessed their parents shot. My heroes are those who continue to live their lives without resorting to violence themselves.

The Israeli response is to try to live normally in the face of terror. To live without losing our own humanity. To rebuild what has been destroyed. To educate our children without hatred.

To live our lives as testimony to the lives that were cut short in the last week.

May G-d avenge their blood.

2 thoughts on “Responding to Murder

  1. Tragic – horrible – thoughts and prayers with their remaining families – and all who live in fear – and in places where this type of horror can occur.

    1. It’s getting worse. On Wednesday alone Arabs stabbed Israelis in Jerusalem’s Old City, Kiryat Gat, and Petach Tikva, a bomb was found on the road between two Jewish towns in Shomron, Arabs injured at least two border police by throwing rocks at them. In a country smaller than New Jersey, this is a significant uptick in violence. Places where we have always felt safe (Kiryat Gat, Petach Tikva) are becoming less so. The point of terrorism is to cause fear–that part of it is working. But terrorism won’t accomplish the Arabs’ goal of ridding the land of Jews.

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