The Agony of Ramadan, 2016

Image: Aftermath of the July 2016 Baghdad bombings, picture via Tasnim News.

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. – Elie Weisel

More than 250 Muslims have been slaughtered in the past week, if you combine the death counts from Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad, and Medina.

The cruelty of those attacks is magnified by several factors. First, they fell just at the end of Ramadan, before the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, a festival on a par with Christian Easter or Jewish Rosh HaShanah. A time of joy has forever been turned to a time of mourning for hundreds of families. Secondly, many of those affected by the explosions and fire in Baghdad were already suffering from more than a decade of war. Third, the attack in Medina was an attack at one of Islam’s holiest sites: imagine a terrorist attack on the Vatican, or the Kotel.

And yet: where are the “Je Suis Istanbul” signs? Where are the facebook memes? Where is the sympathy and solidarity that Paris, and San Bernadino, and Orlando received when there was mass murder? Could it be that we are indifferent because most of the victims are not white? Could it be that we are indifferent because most of them were Muslims?

Someone is going to point out to me that there was celebration in Palestinian Gaza after the bombings in Paris. That has more to do with Hamas (the terrorist organization that currently runs Gaza) than it does with the fact that they are Muslim. I attended an iftar meal in Daly City, CA with Muslims shortly after Orlando, and I can tell you that they were horrified by the shooting. There was not one bit of celebration, no word of justification, not even a little dig about the fact that most of the victims were gay men.

In a New York Times article, journalist Anne Barnard explores some of the political and global reasons for the apathy (and if you are doubting that it exists, she also documents and quantifies it.) My concern here is specific to Jews: I want to suggest that Jewish tradition and the Jewish experience demands that we care.

The Hebrew word for mercy, rachamim, is closely related to the word for womb, rechem. Just as we speak of mothers carrying their infants “under their hearts,” we must carry the suffering of the world under our own hearts. The High Holy Day liturgy warns that those who were without mercy for their fellow human being will face a merciless Judge on Judgment Day. And yes, we may have suffered at the hands of those without mercy but that never justifies any action on our part that is merciless: we must care.

Yes, we are exhausted from mourning the deaths of our own. A little Jewish girl was stabbed to death in her bed by a terrorist. An Israeli family was attacked in their car, the father killed, the mother seriously injured. But did you know that it was also two Arab Palestinians who responded with first aid and comfort for the children after that attack?

Elie Weisel told us repeatedly that we must care about the suffering of others. We must care even when we are exhausted, when we have compassion fatigue, when we are tempted to confusion. We must care, and we must give voice to our concern. 250 human beings died in the past week, died by means so horrible we cannot linger on the thought. We must care.

No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them. – Elie Weisel

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

11 thoughts on “The Agony of Ramadan, 2016”

  1. Every time I hear or read about these senseless acts of terror, regardless of the source, Muslim or otherwise, my heart aches. If we as good people do not speak out against these acts,how can we declare ourselves as good? But it is not enough to speak out, we must act in whatever capacity we each have. Contact our elected officials urging them to do the right things, give tzdaka to true and just causes, be participative in community activities that build friendly relationships with others of different mind sets. With the upcoming election,it is extremely critical that we elect officials who understand that communal understanding is an undertaking rather than something that should be degraded.

    1. Agreed, Sheila, it is critical that we vote and that we continue to communicate with the politicians whom we elect (even when they are not the ones we’d like to have elected!)

      1. We need to understand everything is connected to another. Whenever we hear or read a particular story is okay to be curious and ask questions. Society is being fed headlines rather than journalism. Watch for keywords such as: “we have heard”, “we are told”, “this just in” and “expert opinion” are a few often used. By asking questions we move away from ignorance to actual knowledge.

  2. Question: did those Mosems at the Iftar also condemn the murder of that 13 year old Israeli girl? How about the rabbi, father did ten? How about those killed in Tel Aviv?

    The issue isn’t that they condemn the killings in Orlando, Paris or Istanbul. Of course the overwhelming majority do. The issue is when will they condemn the slaughter of Jewish children, especially a little 13 year old girl sleeping in her bed in Kiryat Arba?And when will the Jewish left stop giving them a pass because they never do, and when will they be called out for their antisemitism, as PM Cameron reminds us that it is antisemitism, because their response to killing Jews is always a “but if.”

    1. Elise, those murders had not yet taken place. I can say with confidence – because one of them is a longtime friend of mine, and I know her heart – that they would condemn the murder of any child. They would condemn cruelty to any child.

      If I raised the subject with them, they might also ask me questions about the about the deaths of Palestinian children, about the little boy who was burned to death in retaliation for murders a few years ago.

      I do not give anyone a pass for murdering another human being. I agree with you that anti-semitism and anti-Muslim speech, when we talk about others as “they” and as a faceless group, is wrong. I agree that responding to murders with “but if” is wrong.

      BOTH sides have to stop saying “but if.”

      1. Well then you could also answer honestly that mainstream Jewish writers, organizations and political parties both in the US, Europe, and Israel resoundingly condemned the murders of both the East Jerusalem teenager and the little Palestinian boy who were murdered. That their murderers are in prison and that they will be there for the rest of their lives.

        But I would also hold your Moslem friends to account for the incitement and antisemitic credo that pervades their society where a Palestinian teenager thinks it behooves them to slaughter Jewish children because it makes them martyrs or holds them to esteem in their societies. Where their government pays the terrorists families compensation for every Jew murdered. Even the Quartet has resoundingly wrote that this incitement leads to the continued violence. That isn’t a “but if” situation that is a real inward look that they refuse to do.

        And yes, Jewish soldiers do have a legal right to defend themselves from Palestinians who are attempting to murder them, even teenagers, with deadly force. Just like the US military and the police do have that right in the US.

        The fact that you would even entertain, as you do in your response, the notion that the way our societies handle these horrors are equal shows the problem with progressive Judaism.

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