Death by sentimentality

On Yom Kippur, we read the famous U’netaneh Tokef prayers that suggest on that day, the fate of Jews will be sealed: Who by water and who by fire? Who by sword and who by a wild beast? Jewish history has shown that, way too often, Jews have not been sealed in the Book of Life, which begs the question: What are we doing wrong? Do these prayers change our fate? High Holy Day prayers should have been edited to account for death by crematoria and death by suicide bomber. And let me add a new, insidious weapon: death by sentimentality.

That’s not to say Jews shouldn’t wax sentimental, sad, or mournful when a fellow Jew is murdered for being a Jew, but this sentimentality is becoming fatal.

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In the wake of Ari Fuld’s death, my social media feed was overflowing with tear-jerking tributes. I saw countless postings of his interviews and articles, including one in which he wrote, livid after the murder of another Jewish father, Rabbi Raziel Shevach: “There is no honor in turning ourselves into punching bags to prove to the world that, yes, we can still be the Jewish victim.”

I saw touching pictures of the lines outside Fuld’s house for the shiva mourning period. I saw a post about a father’s pride in his daughter’s Zionist youth group responding in song and prayer rather than in outrage and anger.

Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu honored Fuld in a tweet, saying: “We are alive because of heroes like Ari,” as if to suggest Israeli civilians should serve as “punching bags” to save other Israelis. Still, Fuld’s getting the recognition few Israeli politicians would deign to give him in his lifetime because they most probably loathed to share publicly or enact his militant views, even if they agreed with them deep down. But now Fuld’s death feeds the Zionist sentiment that keeps them in power.

In making such moving tributes to terrorism victims, friends and family understandably want to find meaning in their deaths. In Fuld’s case, they are eager to forge his legacy. They don’t want his death to be in vain.

So we see posts about how Jews are such a strong, good people because they unite in times of tragedy, get inspired by the victim, and carry on with Jewish traditions, like building a sukkah in the Holy Land. It’s as if the ultimate sanctification of Jewish murders is to become better, more sentimental Jews and Zionists – but not Jews who stay alive.

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By engaging in this maudlin sentimentalism, the Jewish people are sealing their fate: Jews will forever die as martyrs. Instead, such sweet sentiments should be catalyzed into forging a strategic plan to remove the true cause of Islamic, antisemitic violence in the Holy Land, which includes the existence of the Palestinian Authority which incites and pays these murderers.

THIS SUKKOT will be marked not only by fatal sentimentality but also by its sister, superstition, both enemies of the science of God’s world.

One pillar of science is: every action has a reaction. Human beings, unlike animals, are defined by their rational capacity, so they are afforded a myriad of choices for reacting to tragedy.

By observing Yom Kippur true to overly-ritualistic form, and now zealously putting up sukkahs, the Jewish community and especially the religious Zionist community ultimately dull the energies that should go towards defeating the Palestinian menace with scientific precision. Reading repetitive liturgy from the Middle Ages blunts the Jewish ability to act rationally for a better fate, unless you believe that God simply doesn’t answer our prayers, in which case: who needs Him? Lines overflowing outside of Fuld’s house for the shiva could have been easily diverted to protests in front of the Knesset. Instead of singing self-soothing, schmaltzy pro-Israel and liturgical hymns, Israelis could be taking to the streets in anger and outrage. The communal gatherings in shul on Yom Kippur could have easily been transformed into town hall meetings designed to strategize how to undo the policies of appeasement and passivity that take Jewish lives. Instead, out of sentimentality and superstitious obligation, Jews banged their fists on their chest in absurd ritual poses, and maybe the rabbi gave a moving sermon.

The deaths of terror victims are frighteningly turning into virtues. Victims are becoming icons, like Fuld. People take comfort in – or worse, capitalize on – the worldwide recognition he is receiving.

After all, even US Ambassador David Friedman recognized him in social media! The prime minister made a shiva call to his family! But by indulging in these sentimental gestures, we get too starry-eyed to ask the prime minister exactly how he plans to end this terror-war once and for all (assuming he even does.) Demolitions of terrorist homes have proven not to be deterrents; they’re simply shows of bravado.

The Holocaust-admiring Palestinian movement that got Fuld, Shevach and so many others brutally murdered is still operating in the heart of the land under Israel’s supervision. His predictable condemnations aside, Netanyahu still props up the Palestinian Authority. His government treats terrorists in Israeli hospitals. Oh, but doesn’t that show what a kind nation Israel is! Sentimentality is becoming the only means with which Israelis cope with powerlessness.

The Jewish people have become so used to death by terrorism that we have developed our coping formula: cry, mourn, make tributes, come together, celebrate Jewish tradition, pride ourselves on our goodness, maybe build a settlement. But Jews keep dying.

So I prefer not to read any more tributes to Ari Fuld.

I prefer to see actions that would do more real-world justice to Fuld and those before him than publicly honoring him as a Jewish hero – and punching bag.

Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. She holds a BA and MA in Jewish studie

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