Building Trust in a Broken World: In Tribute to Lives Cut Cruelly Short

A car slows down as it comes to the bus shelter.  It has Israeli plates and the sound of Hebrew can be heard from the station on the radio.  The three boys, looking for a ride home from their yeshiva near the city of Hebron, get in.   Getting into a stranger's car is an act of faith. Placing your safety and well-being in the hands of another on the basis of trust.  In this case, we now know, that trust was tragically misplaced and what looked like an act of kindness was the prelude to a premeditated act of cruelty.  Soon after getting into the car, Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach would be shot by their Arab abductors, who had posed as Jewish Israelis.  The world would not  learn of their  ultimate fate for another 18 anguished days, when their bodies were found discarded in caves near the spot from which they were last  heard.

What the terrorists did when they murdered these precious boys, what they perpetrated against their families and against our entire people, is nothing but heartless cowardice masquerading as some greater cause.  While the crime took place over the green line demarcating Israel proper from the disputed territories under Israeli occupation, the target was not settlers but Jews.

What is ironic is that the first weapon that the terrorists used in carrying out their attack is the one thing most needed and most tragically out of reach: trust. Trust was used to lure the kids to their doom, but it is nowhere to be found as Israeli society struggles both within itself and with its Palestinian neighbors to try to find a path forward.

When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the abductions in Arabic, many did not trust that he was sincere and many more did not trust that his Palestinian Authority would take any action in the search for the boys or their assailants.  This lack of trust is a snapshot of the bigger distrust of Abbas intentions to bring a secure peace, especially since Hamas officials have joined the Palestinian Authority.  Likewise the Netanyahu government is not trusted by many who want to see Israel make significant efforts to progress toward a peaceful establishment of a Palestinian state.  And not trusted by others who seek an end to the peace process altogether.

And in the aftermath of the brutal murders, all of this distrust made even more dangerous the call for vengeance within the Jewish community and the real possibility, even before it was clear that the heinous abduction and slaying of a 16-year-old boy named Muhammed Abu Khdeir was an act of Jewish terrorists.

In fact one of the goals of those who perpetrate malicious acts of violence  against another is to ensure that no trust can be built.  Because with trust could come in time a new understanding of the other's perspective and a new  imperative to find a way to break through the impasse.  And, a threat to extremists who define themselves by being at war with the other.

While lack of trust drives much of the action on the ground, it also eats away at the possibility of learning from each other's experiences.  As Israelis watched and prayed for results from the military actions undertaken during the 18 days of uncertainty, Palestinians spoke of indiscriminate exercises and collective punishment against them.  And even as Israeli authorities moved immediately upon the discovery of the burned body of Muhammed Abu Khdeir to lay out the consequences if the perpetrators were Jews, many Arabs and others spoke with suspicion that such a possibility would be swept under the rug.  

Ultimately, while the question of who deserves trust is political, the question of how to build trust is more personal.  Trust cannot be willed into existence and is not served by pretending that there are no reasons to doubt the intentions of the other.  On the other hand, trust begins with an openness to hear the other's story and the values, experiences and dreams that are revealed in such a perspective.  The objective is not to convince one another to adopt the same view, but to find common ground for a mutually beneficial relationship. We are far from finding this common ground and these past weeks have only driven us farther.  And yet the future  lies before us.  We pray for peace, but we must first work to build trust

As I write these words I learn of the passing of Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, a beautiful teacher of the Torah of love and compassion and the spiritual father of the Jewish Renewal Movement.  These words are dedicated first and foremost to the four youths whose lives were cut short by hatred and cruelty and at the same time to elder sage who lived every day as if it were the last opportunity to bring more joy, more peace, and more good into the world.  May we help repair the broken world in their memory.