Wednesday, 14 August 2019 | “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world,” the Talmud (rabbinic commentary on Jewish tradition and the Hebrew Scriptures) teaches. Sadly, the reverse is equally true. Taking a life is considered tantamount to destroying an entire world.
I pondered these words as a team from Bridges for Peace headed for Ofra, a community tucked into the rolling hills of Samaria, to visit the parents of Dvir Sorek, the Israeli teen stabbed to death in a terror attack last week as he walked to school.
When a loved one passes away, Jewish tradition calls for a seven-day mourning period called the shiva (literally “seven” in Hebrew), a time when the community rallies around the mourning family to offer comfort and support. Yesterday, Bridges for Peace joined hands with the people of Israel to visit the Soreks’ home to pay a shiva call. We made the call representing Christians who love and support Israel to bring a message to the grieving parents: “Your son’s murder did not go unnoticed outside Israel. Millions of Christians around the world mourn with you. Israel is not alone.”
We struggled to find a parking spot amid the teeming tide of traffic in the Sorek family’s street. Israel is a tiny country; its population one extended family. When tragedy strikes, the ripple effect of mourning and coming together as one to comfort those affected is vast. The Soreks’ living room proved much too small for the steady stream of family members, loved ones, friends, acquaintances and perfect strangers from all over Israel coming by, and clusters of chairs transformed the garden into a make-shift living room to accommodate the overflow.
Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish–Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) helped arrange our visit. At the time of his murder, Dvir was a student of Ohr Torah Stone’s Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshivah (school for religious soldiers) in Migdal Oz. Executive Director of CJCUC David Nekrutman led us through the throng of people to where Dvir’s grieving parents sat.
The Soreks would have celebrated Dvir’s 19th birthday yesterday. Yet instead of welcoming well-wishers and merry-makers to their home for a party, Yoav and Rachel were surrounded by those who came to mourn their oldest son who would never come home again.
“The story is very simple,” Yoav began. “There is nothing complicated about it.” His son was sensitive, kind-hearted, tender and trusting. “We worried sometimes,” he added with a broken smile, hands spread wide, upward, “that he was too trusting, too good.” The pure and innocent are, after all, preyed on. “The other side,” he said with a shrug, “are taught hatred and death.”
In Dvir’s case, the contrast played out tragically in his brutal murder. Last Wednesday, the teen left Migdal Oz for Jerusalem to purchase books as gifts for his rabbis, telling friends to expect him back that evening. He never made it. Dvir’s body, riddled with stab wounds, was discovered in the predawn hours of Thursday morning near the road leading up to the school. He was reportedly still clutching the books he bought for his teachers.
His murderers came from behind, sneaking up on their prey, Yoav shared. “This is a consolation to us. He didn’t see it coming. He didn’t see their faces. They told us it was over in seconds. He didn’t know. Our son never lost his purity.”
Media reports incorrectly described Dvir as a soldier, Yoav pointed out. “That is a misconception.” While he was part of a program to both study and serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), his service had not started yet. “Dvir had no training, no weapon, no uniform, no nothing.” At the time of his murder, his son was a Torah student, carrying books he had bought as gifts for his rabbis, walking by himself on a lonely road after dark.
Yoav paused, his eyes dry but bruised from grief. “We are not sad for him. We rejoice for Dvir. We are mourning for us. We will miss him. Maybe in a few years we will know how to go on without him. But not today. Not now.”
After paying our condolences we left the Sorek’s living room, stepping into sunshine so brilliant it seemed out of place on a day of such grief. The Jewish people have suffered millennia of persecution, bloodshed and attempted genocides before returning to the land of their forefathers. Once home, they faced a recurring cycle of war, terror and delegitimization. How do people subjected to such sorrow and uncertainty continue to look to the future with joy and expectation?
“We are stronger,” said politician and rabbi Yehudah Glick. “Light is stronger than all the darkness. Life is stronger than all the killing, and love is stronger than all hate. We will continue.”
“It’s tikvah—hope,” explained Nekrutman. “It’s built into the Jewish DNA that we struggle and we fight and there’s tragedy. But we believe, we hope for peace, that our enemies’ hearts will turn and understand that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a God of love, that all we are interested in is living in our land as a sovereign nation in partnership with the world and promoting peace.”
Nekrutman described Christian solidarity for the Jewish people in their grief as “a profound experience.” Bridges for Peace’s shiva call, he continued, was one of the ways in which Christians are taking responsibility for the past and working to forge a new path of reconciliation for the future.
Nekrutman is right. Yesterday we witnessed yet another chapter in the seemingly endless chronicles of hardship and tragedy in the history of the Jewish people. Yet in this time, in this age, the Jews will not stand alone. Their Christian brothers and sisters will speak up, speak out and if need be, mourn with them.
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