I don’t know who I was expecting, but it certainly was NOT a 19 year old Jewish kid living in Israel. Yet, law enforcement officials in both Israel and the US have announced the arrest of just such a young man as the primary suspect in well over 100 bomb threats to JCC’s and other Jewish institutions in recent months. Wow.
Assuming that investigators have arrested the right person, this news will take a long time to digest. First, we all have questions about the mental health of a person who would do this to his own community. Next, even though the response was completely inexplicable, we must wonder what the Jewish community did to provoke such anger in a Jewish teen. Then, we have to ask how the world will respond to future acts of anti-Semitism when the alleged perpetrator of all these bomb threats turned out to be a Jew. Will we be the religious minority who cried, “Wolf!?”
I can’t even get my head around these questions, let alone try to answer them.
I have no information about the suspect’s mental state. I cannot answer how the non-Jewish world will respond to this development. However, I can speak to the way that we as a community treat the members of our community who are a little different, who are facing challenges, who don’t have the skills to successfully negotiate social situations.
Sometimes, the name of the Torah portion is enough to convey a profound message. This week, we actually have two Torah portions combined together – “Vayak-hel” and “Pekudei.”
The word “vayak-hel” means to assemble or to draw together. It gives us the Hebrew word “kehillah” which means congregation or community. In this particular instance, Moses was bringing the Israelites together to discuss the Sabbath – a custom that would unite the Jewish people for centuries and continues to bring us together today.
The word “pekudei” means records or accountings. Perhaps, the best known Biblical verse with this verb is Genesis 21:1, which we read on Rosh Hashanah: “V’Adonai pakad et Sarah – God took note of Sarah.” Other translations are: God remembered Sarah, God was gracious to Sarah or God visited Sarah.
I think it’s a remarkable coincidence that these two portions are often read together on a single Shabbat. In twelve out of nineteen years, these two Torah portions are combined. In the other seven years (leap years) of the nineteen-year cycle, they are read separately. The calendar is conveying a message and a challenge. We only have true community when we take note of ALL the people in our community. We must remember, visit and be gracious to those individuals who exist on the periphery of our community for a variety of reasons.
Sadly, it is in our nature to forget. When that happens, we lose our sense of community. Individuals feel alone and abandoned.
I have no idea what may have driven a 19-year-old American Jew living in Israel to (allegedly) make all these threats on Jewish institutions. I suspect that we will find out that he suffers from some sort of mental illness. However, if it also turns out that he felt slighted, abandoned, ostracized, forgotten or excluded by a community of which he wanted to be a part, I will not be surprised.
Let’s all re-double our efforts to take note, to remember, to be gracious and to visit those who gravitate toward the outskirts of our community. Then, we will have truly created a sense of community. “Vayak-hel/Pekudei.”