Jewfem Blog

A Kidnapping That Made Israel Into One Family

How Three Boys United a Country in Death Getty ImagesBefore Hope Was Lost: A rally in Tel Aviv for the kidnapped boys on June 29, a night before their bodies were discovered.  Modi’in — With news that the bodies of the three kidnapped boys — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16 — were found near Hebron, a collective sigh of grief has been released throughout Israel. It is one of these moments that brings both tragedy and closure — the former, which Israel already has in excess, and the latter which is far more elusive. It also brings a certain degree of vindication at the end of a 17-day period of aching unknown and seemingly endless scenarios, one worse than the other. But while these events have exacerbated tensions and added anxiety-filled narratives to a country overflowing with conflict, they also highlight some of the most important and inspiring aspects of life in Israel at a time when we can all use some sources for optimism, and reminds Israel of some important lessons as we go forward. These past two and a half weeks since the three boys disappeared on their way home, after one of them called police to say, “We have been kidnapped,” Israelis everywhere have been walking on eggshells. Even as Israelis continued life almost as normal, concern for the boys dominated the public consciousness everywhere. Prayer vigils united even those not prone to praying; bar mitzvahs and weddings included mentions of the boys; meetings and conversations on mundane and non-mundane agendas incorporated updates and exchanges about the search. This collective anguish in some ways epitomizes life in Israel. There is this constant sense of family connection, sometimes to the extreme, but always genuine in its care for victims whose crime is being a Jew. This kidnapping, coming so shortly after the release of Gilad Shalit, also brought out a particular kind of panic. The thought that we were going to be subjected to another indefinite period of waiting, in which the threat of long-term kidnappings hangs over the heads of Israelis, inducing unbearable guilt and tortuous uncertainty, was at times too much to bear. The sight of the mothers going to the United Nations to plead for their release — a scene that is especially sad in retrospect now that we know the boys were already gone — was both empowering and frightening. The mothers, especially Rachel Fraenkel, demonstrated remarkable poise and strength, but also revived images of Noam Shalit traveling the world to release his son, hinting that Israel may once again be in it for the long haul. I think it’s in some ways easier to deal with the certainty of death than with that kind of indefinite unknowing. Thoughts of Ron Arad, whose fate so many decades later is still unknown, hang over Israel’s head like a flock of vultures. The enormous emotional and spiritual toll that these stories take on Israel is in some ways what makes Israel who...

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When journalists commit sexual harassment

“How to reduce an outstanding professional woman to a sex object.” That should have been the headline of the article in this week’s Forward which Tuvia Tenenbom interviewed Racheli Ibenboim, an up-and-coming Jerusalem politician who happens to be a Ger hassid. It was supposed to be a profile, but the leering interviewer apparently could not contain himself and it turned into an embarrassing and intrusive peep show. Before explaining why this interview represented the slimiest element of voyeuristic journalism bordering on sexual harassment, I would just like to tell you who Racheli Ibenboim is. I feel that need to describe her as a person because Tenenbom, in what was meant to be a profile of her, completely neglected to do so. Racheli Ibenboim is a 28-year-old executive director of the Meir Panim charity organization that, among other things, runs soup kitchens providing over a million meals a year to the needy and homeless. This is a huge operation with a NIS 40 million annual budget. I would have been really interested to hear about her work and her views about issues such as, say, poverty in Israel, social activism, or how she came to be a leader at such a young age. In case this isn’t a big enough task, Ibenboim ran for the Jerusalem municipal council last year, number three on the Jerusalem Home party list. This is particularly impressive considering that in all of Israel there is apparently only one haredi woman currently sitting on a municipal council – Shira Gergi in Safed – and in fact women generally have only around 15% representation on municipal councils and less than 2% representation in positions of leadership in local politics. So even though she did not actually make it into the council, she is clearly on the path of breaking barriers. To wit, the haredi community must know that Ibenboim is a force of nature because she received a series of threats to pressure her to pull out of the race – yes, actual threats to her person and her family, threats of “excommunication” which is a big deal in the religious world. So she pulled out. Can’t say I blame her. Her election campaign would have been an interesting topic to ask her about as well: How does a haredi woman decide to break convention and run for political office? And how do you grapple with real threats like that? What insights do you have about the future of Israel and the dynamics of religious power in politics? I would have loved to hear a real interview exploring some of these issues. These are actual stories. But that’s not what we got. Instead, we had this Tenenbom guy (Who is he anyway? Why do we even allow creeps like this to even be in the same room as powerhouses like Ibenboim?), who could not get past sex. Over and over again he asked her about her sex life, about her wedding night, about “technicalities”. Ew, ew, and ew. Tenenbom,...

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