Mi-sheh-nichnas Adar…

It’s Rosh Chodesh Adar II. The month in which Jews celebrate Purim this year — it’s leap year, so there are two Adars. Purim celebrates genocide averted; it also harkens back to a commandment in Deuteronomy (25:17-19) to both “blot out the memory of Amalek” and to “not forget.”

Amalek was a tribe whose behavior qualified it as an exemplar of terrorism: Attacking the weak and defenceless, the stragglers at the back of the column. Our rabbis have long since said that Amalek no longer exists, so we should not be tempted to identify our enemies as Amalek and attempt to “blot them out.” But certainly we are still commanded to blot out terrorism, even if we cannot so conveniently identify who the terrorists are; and certainly the exhortation “not to forget” is still critical.

Purim picks up on Amalek because its arch-villain, Haman, is called “Haman the Agagite” — and Agag was the last king of Amalek. (See I Samuel, chapter 15.)

So in 1994, an American-born dati Israeli physician named Baruch Goldstein (what we would call Orthodox) opened fire at the Ibrahimi mosque in what Jews call the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, murdering 29 Arab Muslims and wounding about 150. It was horrific. And he did it on Purim. I can’t remember if it was explicit or simply understood that he considered himself to be “blotting out Amalek.” Not that Deuteronomy says even that, it says “blot out the memory” … but also, “Don’t forget.”

The next year, and the year after, there were retaliatory attacks (in Jerusalem, I think) in which Jews were murdered by Palestinian Arabs. It was horrible.

So it it hard to see it as coincidence that yesterday, on Rosh Chodesh Adar, 8 young men were murdered in a Jerusalem yeshiva. And not just any yeshiva, but a Zionist yeshiva, named for HaRav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel in modern times, a mystic and a Zionist and, by all accounts, a man who was open to Jews of all levels of observance and kinds of beliefs.

This is the first terrorist attack in Israel since Israel’s “disengagement” from Gaza (and withdrawal from 4 settlements in the West Bank) in August, 2005. The shooter was a Palestinian Arab from East Jerusalem who carried an Israeli identity card. (Most Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem have refused to become Israeli citizens, for symbolic reasons; they are the ones keeping a Palestinian “toe-hold” on Jerusalem. Mostly in East Jerusalem, and most Jews live in West Jerusalem; it’s time already to form two municipalities, but that’s heresy among those Jews who believe that “Jerusalem” must be “forever united.” Well, since in Arabic it’s called “Al-Kuds” (“The Holy”), let that be the name of what’s currently called East Jerusalem. But I know it’s not as simple as that, simply becuase of where the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods are, not to mention all the other reasons that people have for being intransigent.)

So I will be chanting an El Maley Rachamim, a memorial prayer, tonight for these 8 young men. My Orthodox cousins live in and near Jerusalem, and their husbands sometimes study at Merkaz HaRav Kook Yeshivah. They are safe, thank God. But this is a sad and troubling turn of events, symbolically as well as in loss of life. We mourn with our extended Jewish family.