In Memoriam

Halfway to Hell

In Itamar, a bloody act of random cruelty, during the happiest season of the Jewish calendar.

By 3.15.11

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This column about the murdered Fogel family was written a few times on other surfaces before I put it to paper. First I etched it into my heart with a scalpel, then I inscribed it on the sacred parchment of Jewish history with a quill; finally, I spray painted it onto the bulletin board of the human race in a jagged graffito. After all this, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could be lucid enough to share it with my friends through the printed page.

There are two small communities in Israel, Elazar and Itamar, named after the two surviving sons of Aaron. Their two brothers died shockingly to disturb a happy period for the Israelites, not long after the Exodus. The tradition teaches that there was a divine decree for all the children of Aaron to die, but Moses prayed and succeeded in saving half of them. Now, 3300 years later, the tableau is repeated in the town of Itamar.

Six children live at home in the same family, brutal killers invaded their home, yet half the children survived. One kid was sleeping on a couch instead of a bed, the two-year-old was curled in a small ball on his bed, and probably escaped notice. The 12-year-old sister stayed out late in a Sabbath youth group; parents in Israel are astoundingly tolerant of these wholesome gatherings and suspend their usual curfews.

So a heartless, soulless, gutless murder of a sleeping family only got the parents and half the children, including a three-month-old baby. That is the good news. All the rest is hellish tragedy, atrocity, inhumanity. Hamas announced that although they did not send the killer, they applauded his handiwork. Those peace-loving Palestinians strike again!

THIS IS THE HAPPIEST SEASON of the Jewish calendar. The holiday of Purim, celebrating the heroism of Queen Esther saving her people from the Persians 2300 years ago, will be observed next week. It is a day of goofy costumes and comedy, eating and drinking, a giddy time of hope. School plays are being performed in advance of the holiday, so little glittery crown-wearing boys and girls are skipping up the steps of school buses all over Israel.

Against this backdrop comes a bloody act of random cruelty. Climbing into a peaceful suburban home to slash the throats of its sleeping inhabitants; now there's a political statement. What does that tell the world about the culture of the people who can perpetrate such acts -- not as isolated instances of twisted menace but as publicly celebrated expressions of a national spirit?

Yes, you heard that right. Gaza residents hit the streets to express their jubilance, handing out candy and sweets in honor of the occasion. We have our murderers, too, but we chase them into their dark dens and confine them in cages.

Can someone reasonably argue that a peace treaty negotiated by some people in suits is going to pacify a culture that throws a party to honor the murder of a three-month-old child?

Well, perhaps I have not becalmed myself into lucidity after all. I am enraged, offended, provoked into a state of war. I reject the notion of statehood for the bloodthirsty, legitimacy for the ruthless. Ruthless is an appropriate word here; the woman they killed with three of her offspring was Ruth Fogel. Fogel is a bird, so Ruth Fogel means Bird-of-Peace. It does not take a genius to get the message of slashing the bird of peace.

You and I love the image of the bird soaring high and free; we love peace so much we are willing to overlook all sorts of slights and affronts and irritations and provocations. We want so much to impute good will and good faith to all of mankind, to men and woman of every race and religion. But we cannot close our eyes to evil, to raw predatory evil, to naked evil wielding its scythe of destruction against all that is gentle and kindly and innocent.

I want so much to join my children and grandchildren in their Purim playlets, to get into the mood of the time. One more time the brutes have stolen the light right out of my eyes. Thank God they could not get it all; prayer has saved half of our goodness from the blade. Let us treasure what remains.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.