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