As soon as I heard the details of the terrorist attack on March 6, I knew it was different.
The target was not a crowded public target. It was not a bus or a cafe. The Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva was a target in a residential neighborhood on the far west side of Jerusalem. For a terrorist to get there, he had to know where he was going. It was an ideological target; the flagship of religious Zionism, founded in pre-State 1924 by the then Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, a fundamental figure in Religious Zionism, well respected by all Jews for his groundbreaking leadership and post-posthumously named for him (HaRav – The Rabbi).
Rav Kook, founded this yeshiva, as the first Zionist Yeshiva, a modern break from the Yishuv’s European Ultra-Orthodox mentality that had separated itself from the dominantly secular Zionist initiative. The Zionist movement’s leading rabbis as well as many yeshiva heads, government-employed rabbis, and teachers in religious colleges and high schools throughout the country have learned at this Yeshiva.
Modern Orthodoxy’s religious Zionism is at the core of the settlement movement. The settlements in the territories captured by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967 are one of the main obstacles to a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Originally, this movement was born out of a desire of people who had been expelled from their homes to return to Jewish settlement that Arabs had captured in 1948 once Israel had recaptured their land in 1967.
Hanan Porat, a student at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva lead this effort. As a child, he and his family were forced to flee Kibbutz Ein Tzurim in Gush Etzion (just south of Jerusalem) when Jordanians captured it in the War of Independence. He grew up on the relocated Kibbutz Ein Tzurim and, after the Six-Day War, along with other children of the kibbutz, re-established Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim in Gush Etzion. Today, a former paratrooper, he is a member of Knesset in the National Religious Party and a natural product of the modern Orthodox Zionist education that Mercaz HaRav propagates.
Following the Yom Kippur War in 1973 the Yeshiva bred Gush Emunim, a modern Orthodox political movement that encouraged Jewish settlement in the territories founded on the teachings of Rav Kook.
This was a calculated target requiring intelligence and planning.
What is more, the assailant was not a Palestinian from the territories. He was an Israeli citizen from Jerusalem. He lived in Jabel Makaber, the next neighborhood over from mine. Jabel Makaber’s residents are the Arabs I know. They are the people I work with, stand on line with at the super market, the post office and the bank. The morning after the attack I took my six year old son Maytav to kindergarten, dropping him off at his school directly across the street from the houses of Jabel Mukaber.
The attack was different in another way. It underscored the differences between the two Palestinian entities now controlling the territories. Saeb Erekat, a moderate Palestinian and aide to the Palestinian president, well known to American audiences through his many English interviews in the media immediately announced that “President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack in Jerusalem that claimed the lives of many Israelis and he reiterated his condemnation of all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis.”
On the other hand, Hamas issued a statement in Gaza saying “We bless the [Jerusalem] operation. It will not be the last.”
As I read these press reports the morning after the attack, after dropping Maytav at kindergarten across from Jabel Mukaber, I read the names of the eight boys who had been killed. One name stood out:
Avraham David Moses.
My thought process went something like this:
‘Avraham David Moses from Efrat’ Rivkah’s last name was Moses before she remarried. Rivkah lives in Efrat. Rivkah has a son Avraham David. I wonder if this is Rivkah’s son.
I could not believe it. Looking back, I think how I was so oblivious; I was in complete denial.
Rivkah and I met when I was teaching Web design many years ago. She was a student in my class and later I hired her to work for my Web design business. We worked together on a daily basis for several years. During that time, she was going through a divorce and then began dating her future husband, David Moriah. She is a warm, intelligent soft-spoken person from rural New Hampshire with whom I had many intimate conversations as our friendship grew. I got to know her children as well, mostly through her, but also on several outings we took together with our families.
I called several mutual friends and eventually the municipality of Efrat to check if this was the Avraham David Moses from Efrat that I knew. The municipality did not have the boys mother’s name. The woman who answered the phone said it was not from the Moriah family, but the Moses family.
I started to explain, but then just conceded, “OK what’s the father’s name?”
“That was Rivkah’s ex-husband’s name,” I thought. “This must be him.”
I prepared myself to go to the funeral of my friend’s son. A 16 year old boy with whom I had taken trips and sent birthday cards was now dead. I was in shock.
Avraham David (center) next to his mom on a company fun day (“yom kef”), hiking near Bet Shemesh, his younger brother, Elisha Dani, running ahead.
At the funeral, Avraham David’s father and step-father both spoke. As did two Rabbis.
I was very offended by the first rabbi who had the audacity to actually say that he was not going to speak about Avraham David. There had been eulogies at the school for the eight boys. Then they returned to their hometowns for individual services. I had not attended the service at the scool. I had not wanted to hear the politicians. I wanted to hear about Avraham David. I had come to mourn him.
This man was turning the usual message heard at soldiers’ funerals on its head. Instead of stressing the human elements of soldiers, that soldiers are our boys, our sons and husbands, he dehumanized these boys saying that although they were not waring uniforms, they were soldiers. His inciting words stressed that this is a war. I was repulsed.
The other rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Froman, had the opposite message. Although a rabbi of a settlement of the territories, this founder of Gush Emunim told how the Rabbi of the Mir Yeshivah, Jerusalem’s most prestigious yeshivah, calls in his students after each terrorist attack and reminds them of the value of all human life and of peace.
“God is peace,” Rabbi Froman reminded the crowds, “The best revenge is love.”
I took these words with me from the funeral and tried to understand them.
“What love is he talking about?”
I wrestled with this for several days.
“I can not love the Arabs,” I thought, “I don’t even know them.”
And then I found meaning in his words. For me, I thought, this is the love of my own children. And I understood that peace would not come from politicians signing papers, but only when enough fathers lose their sons that they want to stop the killing.
“I just buried my friend’s son,” I thought, “I never want to bury my son.” That is the love that will motivate me to act for peace. But how, I wondered.
“Maybe,” I thought, “there is another father with a son who feels the same way.”
Jabel Mukaber is next to my neighborhood. It is very, very large. Maybe I can find a father and a son to talk to with one of my boys. I want to spend more time with my children. Having another father to share this time would allow me to get to know my son, my neighbor and myself better. It would also give our children the opportunity to meet and to talk.
Although my oldest son was was born here, he has always felt most comfortable in English, the language we speak at home. In Arab schools, they do not learn Hebrew in the lower grades. With these considerations in mind, I thought the best thing to do would be to find another English-speaking family. In this way as well, we would be speaking in a “neutral” language and already have some common ground. If they are speaking in English at home it must be a value for them, as it is for us, and they must either be native English speakers or have spent a significant amount of time in an English speaking country. We would have a meeting point.
With this in mind, I felt I could answer and react to Avraham David’s death in a meaningful way. Perhaps I could turn it into a building-block for a better future.
The problem I faced was how to find the father and son I was looking for, if they even existed.
Israel is very divided. We meet very few people who are not like ourselves. There are some things that are good about this as it fosters our community and enriches our knowledge of who we are, but there are significant gaps in our awareness and understanding because we rarely encounter people unlike ourselves. My kids know very few secular Jews, very few ultra-Orthodox Jews, no Christians and only one Muslim who cleans the steps of our apartment building on Fridays before Shabbat. While I may foster pluralistic values in my actions and conversations with my children, their expression allowing my children to learn and imitate through my behavior interacting with people very different from myself is extremely limited. This is one of the main drawbacks of living in Israel.
I wondered how would I find an English-speaking father with a son around nine years old who would be interested in meeting with my son and myself. I thought, perhaps there was a newspaper for the
neighborhood in which I could advertise. I wrote the following ad:
Do you have a son in 2nd-4th grade who speaks English?
Are you a father who wants to spend more time with his son?
If so, join me and my nine year old son for hikes, picnics and fun.
Let’s enjoy the time we have with our children while getting to know
This is an invitation to make a difference in your son’s life.
Why am I doing this?
I am an Israeli Jew who came from New Jersey about 20 years ago. Last Friday I buried the son of a friend of mine who was shot in the attack on students last Thursday night. I do not ever want to bury my son.
Peace will not come from politicians – It will come from fathers who love their sons. If your love for your son is more than your fear and anger, this is a chance to act upon it.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I posted this on some Palestinian Facebook groups and in comments about the attack on YouTube. I also approached a woman I know who works for a non-profit organization that sponsors Arab-Jewish schools.
She came back to me the next day and said that she had spoken to someone from Jabel Mukaber and he thought it was an excellent idea and he was willing to look for someone for me through the schools, but I would need to give it time. The attacker’s family was in shock. A wealthy and educated family, they had not expected this from their son. Tempers were still high. The body of the attacker had not yet been buried.
The Israeli General Security Services did not return the body to the family for burial for over a week. They did not want a large public burial. At one point, they had tried to bury the body, setting a time late at night for the burial, but when they arrived, a large crowd was waiting so the GSS took the body away. At that point, the family had already finished their three-day mourning period and before anyone could be approached, some time needed to elapse.
A week and a half after the attack on the Mercaz HaRav Yeshivah, my wife called.
“Did you hear the news?” she asked the dreaded question. “Something has happened.”
She told me police were all over our neighborhood. Her car had been stopped at a checkpoint picking the kids up from school. Then I heard the helicopters overhead.
I checked the news. This time they were not looking for an Arab terrorist or a bank robber. This time was different. Jewish groups held a demonstration. Jewish mobs attacked Arab homes with rocks, smashing windows and causing other damage. Twenty-four demonstrators were arrested. Students from Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva did not participate. These were members of extreme rightist groups. But this was the popular answer that the Arabs of Jabel Mukaber witnessed.
When the time is right (but not too long) I hope to find one father. No groups, no organizations, just one father who seeks to give his son a better future.