The Blessing of Hope and the Curse of Hatred
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
In September 2005, shortly after Israel’s “disengagement” from Gush Katif (The Gaza Strip), the students of Yeshiva Darchei Noam where I served as Dean, adopted the school of Atzmonah as the displaced residents were attempting to rebuild their lives in the city of Netivot. During the course of that school year, our children exchanged letters with their kids, sent them nearly $10,000 in school supplies and sports equipment and sent each of their children a new bicycle for their Pesach afikomen gift.
In December of 2005, I traveled to the Nitivot area along with our then-eighteen-year-old daughter who was studying in Yerushalayim to offer emotional support to the children we had adopted. We were both heartbroken beyond words when we saw the primitive conditions of the decrepit trailers in the dusty airport hangar the children called home. Nonetheless, we were struck and genuinely surprised by the positive attitude that pervaded the entire complex where they were living. The village elders called their makeshift community “Ir Emunah – City of Hope,” and that name captured the spirit of those amazing people. The children were deeply saddened by their traumatic relocation but the overall atmosphere was upbeat and cheerful. Classes were in session and the children were learning in an orderly fashion with excellent lessons – despite the very challenging nature of their classrooms.
Halfway through our visit, I asked to meet with leaders of the community to ask them the question that dominated my thoughts: “How were you able to cultivate and nurture the positive energy of the children despite the trauma they had recently suffered?”
After a few moments of reflection and silence, they explained that the adults in Atzmonah were determined to adhere to two goals – never to separate from each other and never to allow their children to descend into the morass of self-pity, bitterness and hatred. Their soft-spoken mayor eloquently stated that, “Hashem, in His wisdom took our homes and the beautiful city we build with our sweat and blood from us, but we will not lose our hope and faith in Him, nor will we lose our sense of community.”
Upon returning to the States, I posted pictures of the Ir Emunah school, (one humorous note: our students kept asking if they could be permitted to adopt the dress code of their pen-pals in Ir Emunah – shorts and sandals) and called an assembly where I spoke to my students about the blessing of hope and the curse of hatred in the context of the incredible spirit and bitachon (faith in G-d) displayed by the children and their parents.
I contrasted the faith and resiliency in which my generation’s Holocaust-surviving parents rebuilt their lives and families after suffering unimaginable trauma, with the hatred sown by the Palestinian leadership in the decades following the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. “It is no coincidence that so many Palestinians are still living in squalid refugee camps four generations later,” I said, “because hatred does not provide a platform upon which to build.”
I told my students that, while it is always risky to make pronouncements about the future, I predicted that those families traumatically relocated to Netivot, will all be in beautiful homes of their own within five years because of their positive attitude (it actually b’h became a reality in slightly more than two years).
I write these lines to share my deep, deep concern over the toxic effect that the harsh and inflammatory rhetoric that has been resonating in the echo chamber of our charedi community in Eretz Yisroel and abroad since the ascent of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party is having on our impressionable children and young adults. Adolescents, who typically see things in black and white, are sadly hearing far more black than white nowadays.
Think of it this way. What advice would you give to parents who ask you how speak to their children after they’ve lost their job or after a significant business reversal? You would probably tell them to be honest with their kids about the difficult challenges you and they will be facing but that you will get through this together as a family. It would also be helpful to tell the parents that tough times offer them the opportunity to model resiliency, courage and genuine faith. (Here is a column giving such advice to parents Tough Times Don't Last; Tough People Do, and this is an essay I co-authored with my incredibly resilient mother sharing her life lessons with single parents on the occasion of my father’s 50th yahrtzeit – One Foot in Front of the Other).
Telling children in our community that secular Jews dislike or even hate us, which a recent poll commissioned by Mishpacha clearly disproves, will only unsettle them, alienate them from the surrounding society in which they live, and chas v’shalom build toxic hatred in their very being.
Preaching messages of this nature to impressionable children is quite literally playing with fire. Nearly thirty-five years in chinuch (education) has led me to the inescapable conclusion that children who are taught to hate certain people, eventually hate more and more people, including sometimes, those who taught them to hate – and ultimately may even hate themselves as well.
Quite often, the people who preach these types of messages subsequently say things like, “Well, I really didn’t mean THAT,” when their children or students take their divisive teachings to the next level, only to find out that hate has no off button.
My dear friends; with friendship, love and respect, I implore those in our community who are engaging in overheated rhetoric to redirect your message to one that provides light and not heat; one that conveys our deepest beliefs while maintaining respect for those who have differing views.
By all means, speak to your children and students about the great value we place in Torah learning, how we deeply feel that it is our Torah that has sustained us throughout our history, and how we believe that it protects Am Yisroel nowadays from our enemies. At the same time, explain how a representative democracy works, that our charedi parties are in the minority now, and that not all Jews see things the way we do. Speak to them about how much we appreciate the sacrifices those who serve in the armed forces make on behalf of all residents of Eretz Yisroel and how we hope and pray that they will one day come to similarly appreciate the sacrifices we make to devote ourselves to studying Hashem’s Torah.
Speaking to your children in this manner will help them process the swirling bits of information about the events that are causing stress to the adults in their lives – and will help them move forward through this challenging phase with hope, faith and optimism in their future and ours.
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